As an attorney in Nashville who does both family law and federal discrimination work, I have been asked a lot of questions about what the actual impact of the new Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage is on citizens of Tennessee. Here are three of the biggest changes I see coming down the pipeline:
First, the very obvious — same-sex marriage is now legal. This means all states including Tennessee must now recognize same-sex marriages previously licensed by other states, just like that do for opposite-sex marriages. This means persons married in a same-sex ceremony will continue to be married when they cross state lines.
Second, a little less obvious to people who don’t practice divorce law — same-sex divorce is now legal. Since Tennessee did not recognize same-sex marriage, that also meant citizens of Tennessee in a same-sex marriage licensed by another state could not get a divorce. Divorce laws around the country typically have jurisdiction requirements that require you to file your divorce in the state where you have lived for the last few months (in Tennessee, its six months). This created an odd conundrum — persons who were legally married in some states, but not Tennessee, and wanted to to terminate the marriage were in a weird legal limbo where they were married but not, and could not get a divorce to clarify the matter. With this ruling, since the same-sex marriage must be recognized by Tennessee, it will now be able to be dissolved under Tennessee law as well.
Third, employers may need to increase some of their policies to include same-sex couples who are married. Many employers in Tennessee did not have to recognize the same-sex marriage since it was not recognized by the state. Going forward, I would expect company policies to change to include extending benefits and other things to same-sex spouses. Likewise, many companies with Domestic Partnership policies may change to require marriage, since same-sex couples will now be able to marry. Many companies have domestic partnership benefits to avoid discrimination problems with people in same-sex relationships, but these benefits are often enjoyed by couples who have cohabitated for a long period of time but were not married.
It will be very interesting to watch the ripple effect of the new Supreme Court ruling move through both the legal system and the corporate benefits system over the next few years.