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Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban heads to court

Things are heating up in courts across Pennsylvania for same-sex couples. There are a handful of lawsuits in both state and federal courts that challenge the Pennsylvania law that bans the recognition of same-sex marriage, one of which will soon be headed to trial. Earlier this month, a U.S. district court judge told the litigants to prepare for a pre-trial conference. At the conference (scheduled for today), lawyers need to be ready to discuss setting a date for the trial.

Though there is no constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, the law does ban the recognition of same-sex marriage, whether performed here or in a state with legal recognition of these marriages. Some people in Pennsylvania may not completely understand why same-sex couples need legal recognition, but having a legal marriage provides considerably more protections than unrecognized cohabitation.

Of course there are benefits and protections while married, but same-sex couples need protections when they are splitting up, too. When a same-sex couple breaks up, the process of dividing property is different from if they had been married. When a married couple divorces, there are rules regarding how property must be divided (equitably) and protections against a former spouse absconding with the marital estate. For same-sex couples, the process is much more complex.

Trying to figure out how to divide shared property in a same-sex relationship takes legal skills that most lay people simply do not have. For couples who were legally married in another state and then moved to Pennsylvania, the process will be even more difficult.

Until Pennsylvania legally recognizes same-sex marriage, the family law issues surrounding same-sex relationships will likely remain complex and difficult.

Source: The Guardian, "Lawsuit over Pennsylvania same-sex marriage ban moves closer to trial," Nov. 15, 2013

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