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ACLU Joins Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage in Michigan

bilde.jpgYou may recall that a Michigan judge, not too long ago, stated his conviction that a ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution and issued an order invalidating the state's constitutional restriction limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

Following U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman's ruling on March 21, 2014, 300 same-sex couples jumped at the opportunity to marry until, that is, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, following a request by Attorney General Bill Schuette, temporarily stopped same-sex marriages in the state.

Shortly thereafter, Gov. Rick Snyder issued a statement noting that same-sex couples who had been legally married would not necessarily be afforded the same benefits as married heterosexual couples.

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Same-Sex Marriage Battle in Utah Continues

February 11, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

CA Same Sex Marriage.jpgSeventeen states now allow same-sex marriage; however, 33 states continue to ban it.

California's Path to Same-Sex Marriages

In California, the right to marry someone of the same sex took a circuitous route, involving political battles, appeals, and finally a reversal of the decision to ban gay marriage. Here's what happened. A proposition was passed allowing same-sex marriage in the state. Then Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, was put to the voters and was passed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that California's anti-gay marriage initiative, known as Proposition 8, was unconstitutional. Unhappy with that result, supporters of Proposition 8 appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June of last year, in a 5 - 4 decision, the court ruled that the defenders of Proposition 8 lacked standing and, therefore, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its ban, blocking same-sex marriages.

Same-sex marriages are now legal in California.

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Battles Over Same-Sex Marriages Continue

January 21, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Same Sex Battle.jpgLiving in California, we can sometimes forget how conservative other states are, especially in the arena of same-sex marriages.

Take Oklahoma as an example. A federal judge recently struck down a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in his state. In his 68-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern lambasted the state's ban, referring to it as arbitrary for "just one class of Oklahoma citizens."

He added in stern language that equal protection "is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions."

His ruling stemmed from a suit filed by two lesbian couples who sued federal and state officials in 2004. In 2006, the 10th Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue them, so the plaintiffs sued again, this time omitting the governor and attorney general as defendants.

Kern strenuously supported the two couples in his ruling. He stated, "Same-sex couples are being subjected to a 'naturally procreative' requirement to which no other Oklahoma citizens are subjected, including the infertile, the elderly, and those who simply do not wish to ever procreate."

He also pointed out how one of the couples had been in a long-term, committed relationship, owned property together and planned to retire together. Why should they be denied the legal standing of marriage?

Struggle Over Gay Marriage Isn't Over

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Michigan Women Hope to Overturn State's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

October 22, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

same-sex-marriage-062308.jpgIn July, I wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings in June on two pivotal cases involving same-sex marriages. To recap what happened, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a 5-4 decision.

Despite the historic ruling, a Detroit judge plans to decide the future of his own state's gay marriage ban in February 2014.

The Battle Over Same-Sex Unions in Michigan

The battle began when two Detroit-area women wanted to adopt each other's children. Their first salvo was a lawsuit they filed last year in which they hoped to overturn Michigan's ban on adoption by unmarried couples. The law they hope to overturn as been on the books since 1945.

On October 16th, the parties had their day in court. The plaintiffs argued that the ban on same-sex marriage now violates their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution to get married and adopt each other's children.

On the other side, Republican Governor Rick Snyder argued the state has a legitimate interest in promoting "natural procreation," "optimal parenting" and "family stability."

The judge won't issue a ruling until February. While no one can predict his decision everyone can make this prediction: whoever loses will challenge the judge's decision to a higher court.

Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.: An Upward Battle

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Filing for Bankruptcy During the Federal Shutdown: What You Should Know

October 8, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Shutdown.jpgFederal defense worker Rob Merritt was barely making ends meet when President Barack Obama and Congress reached an impasse, forcing many federal departments to come to a halt.

As soon as the shutdown began, visitors to national parks were turned away and U.S. residents found doors shuttered to other federal services. In many departments, large numbers of federal employees were furloughed, leaving those who remained poorly equipped to properly serve members of the public.

For example, the National Labor Relations Board furloughed 1,600 employees, leaving 11 workers in place. The Internal Revenue Service, which employs 94,516 workers, dropped to just 8,752 workers.

Even worse, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes housing costs for the nation's poor, slashed 8,360 employees from its normal rank of 8,709.

Some federally furloughed employees, some of whom have to continue to work without pay, are now like Merritt, financially vulnerable.

Merritt, who earns $80,000 annually, was already borrowing money using his credit cards to support his wife and four children. He accumulated an insurmountable amount of debt when he underwent heart surgery in April. His wife was in the process of changing careers but had to stop interviewing to help take care of her husband.

If Merritt had been furloughed - like tens of thousands of other federal workers - he would be filing for bankruptcy right now. He's one of the luckier federal employees. Although his check will be delayed, he will eventually receive one - unlike furloughed employees who aren't working and won't ever be able to recoup the lost income.

Is Now a Bad Time to File for Bankruptcy?

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IRS Issues New Ruling for Same-Sex Marriages

September 17, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

1376395773000-AP-IRS-Political-Groups.jpgOn September 16, 2013, a new "state-of-celebration rule" takes effect that recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages regardless of where the marriage took place.

The ruling is a result of the Supreme Court ruling in June when it overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a 5-4 decision.

The IRS ruling will not apply to state taxes unless a state adopts the IRS rule.

Provisions of the IRS Ruling

The new IRS rule includes these provisions:

  • The terms spouse, husband and wife will now refer to same-sex individuals who were lawfully married.
  • For same-sex couple living in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, as long as they were married in a state that does recognize gay marriage, the IRS will recognize the marriage.
  • For the ruling to apply to same-sex unions, couples need to marry. The terms spouse, husband and wife will not include individuals who have a registered domestic partnership or other formal relationship that is recognized under state law but isn't considered a marriage by the state
You May Be Entitled to a Tax Refund

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Wedleases Make Big News But Would They Make Divorce Less Messy?

August 13, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Wedlwases.jpgAccording to the U.S. Census Bureau, couples are marrying at a faster rate than they are divorcing and that is good news.

Nonetheless, we all know the divorce rate is still higher than we'd like it to be and that the statistics for a lasting union deteriorate as couples enter their second, third and fourth marriages. If you take the film star Elizabeth Taylor as an example, her success at marriage didn't increase as she progressed to her eighth marriage. All of her nuptials ended in divorce court.

There's no doubt that it's easier to obtain a divorce today than it was back before 1970, when a divorcing spouse needed to allege that the husband or wife had been guilty of a crime or had committed adultery. In California, irreconcilable differences is a sufficient reason to substantiate the need for a divorce.

There does seem to be good news of late, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that divorce rates are decreasing (it was at 4 per 1,000 people in 2000 and 3.6 per 1,000 people in 2011) - and so are marriage rates (8.2 in 1,000 in the year 2000 and 6.2 per 1,000 in 2011).

Yet, if you look around your circle of friends and family, you know there is reason to be discouraged. Gone are the days when most couples made it to their 50th anniversary. These days, they are lucky if they celebrate their 11th year of marriage together.

With Still too Many Marriages Failing, Will Wedleases Become an Option?

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Same-Sex Immigrant Couples Can Finally Be Together

immigration.jpgWhen the U.S. Supreme Court made its historic rulings on same-sex couples on June 26 of this year, gay citizens were elated.

There were very likely some private celebrations held as well, especially among gay or lesbian naturalized citizens who were previously denied the right to bring a partner cross the U.S. border and obtain a coveted Green Card.

Citizenship and Immigration Services Green Cards

Since the legalization of medical marijuana in California, medical marijuana cards are sometimes referred to as "green cards." Elsewhere in the nation, a green card holder commonly refers to someone who has received authorization to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis.

Many green card holders are sponsored by employers or, more commonly, by family members. But what happens when your family member is a same-sex spouse or fiancé?

Before the Supreme Court ruling in June, petitions to admit a same-sex romantic partner were commonly denied. However, since the liberalization of the law, the federal administration has started a system-wide review of cases where U.S. citizens had been denied green cards for the simple fact that they were same-sex couples.

Attaining Legal Status Will Involve Forms

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Aftermath of the Supreme Court Rulings on Same-Sex Couples

gay-marriage-supreme-courtjpg-503aea83cb8efbb0.jpgTwo weeks ago, I wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on two pivotal cases involving same-sex marriages. Today I'll talk about what has happened during the weeks since that ruling.

A Recap of the Court's Rulings

On June 26th of this year, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a 5-4 decision. The law had denied same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, which are available to heterosexual couples.

In addition, the Supreme Court ruled that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority or legal standing to defend the law in federal courts.

What's Happened Since the Rulings

Soon after the rulings, the Obama administration made health, vision and dental benefits available to all same-sex spouses and children of legally married federal employees. However, it was reported on July 8 that the Obama administration would not extend federal-worker benefits to domestic partners who were not married.

What this means is that same-sex couples living anywhere in the U.S. will qualify for federal-employee benefits as long as their marriage licenses were obtained from any one of the 13 states that recognize same-sex marriage and the District of Columbia.

It is still unknown how the Obama administration will handle same-sex couples with respect to Social Security and veterans' benefits. Those agencies have yet to issue any guidance on their policies.

Continue reading "Aftermath of the Supreme Court Rulings on Same-Sex Couples" »

Same-Sex Marriages and the U.S. Supreme Court Rulings

20526385_BG1.jpgIn a surprising decision last week, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a 5-4 decision. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined with Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan to overturn DOMA.

DOMA was originally passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The law denied same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, which are available to heterosexual couples.

In addition, The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority or legal standing to defend the law in federal courts.

What the Rulings Mean

Gay rights activists and others who challenged the legality of Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, hoped the Supreme Court would rule in favor of same-sex marriage. But it didn't. The court based its decision on legal standing.

Advocates for DOMA hoped for a win for the traditional view of marriage. Again, the court didn't do that. The court based its decision on due process and 14th Amendment equal protection rights.

Despite the celebrations in the streets, neither decision by the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed same-sex marriage.

Now, it will be up to the Obama administration to implement the court's decision on DOMA and decide how and whether to apply a uniform, federal agency-wide marriage definition.

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Child Custody Issues for Eddie Murphy

childairport460.jpgWhen celebrities such as Eddie Murphy and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown were married, it made the news - at least entertainment news coverage.

Now their custody battle is grabbing legal headlines.

Eddie Murphy vs. Melanie Brown

Brown, who entered into a contract with Australia's version of The X Factor, decided to break her agreement with the Down Under network due to Murphy's refusal to allow their daughter to move to Australia.

Murphy and Brown were never married but in 2007, Brown gave birth to their child, the now 7-year-old girl, Angel Iris. Initially, Murphy refused to acknowledge the child until a paternity test proved that he had indeed fathered the child.

Now he wants a relationship with Angel Iris and for her to live in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Brown's professional future is at stake because if she can't move with her daughter, she will be in breach of contract with her employer.

It's a mess.

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Obama Urges Reversal On Prop. 8 While U.S. Military Liberalizes Benefits For Gay Couples

96981501_video_large.jpgOn February 28, President Barack Obama urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn California's same-sex marriage ban. His action is the first time a U.S. president has urged the nation's highest court to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

Specifically, the president's brief asks the U.S. Supreme Court justices to strike down California's Proposition 8 ballot measure, which currently prohibits gay marriage in the state.

Benefits Not Available to Gay Couples

While California - and seven additional states - allows same-sex civil unions, marriage is not allowed, precluding gay couples from enjoying the benefits afforded to heterosexual couples, including:

  • Social Security benefit.
  • Tax-free inheritance for the surviving spouse.
  • Family and medical leave.
  • COBRA health insurance benefits

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Proposition 8, gay marriage will be legal in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.

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Is Facebook Safe? It might Not Be for Your Teen

February 12, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

internetSafety3_frame.jpgIn 2008, the Illinois legislature enacted a law authored by state Sen. John Waterman barring most registered sex offenders from using Facebook or other social networking sites. The law was challenged and upheld by a district court in June 2012.

Displeased with that court's decision, the ACLU of Indiana filed an appeal. The 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago in late January overturned the lower court's decision and ruled that the Indiana law was unconstitutional.

Sen. Waterman has stated he will pursue new measures to protect children online from the dangers of sexual predators.

Sex Offenders Fight Back

Sex offenders have organized legal battles, fighting for their right to be online. They were successful in February 2012 when a federal judge in Louisiana struck down a state law barring sex offenders from using Facebook and other social media on First Amendment grounds.

Efforts to restrict sex offenders across the U.S. seem to reach the same obstacle.

Continue reading "Is Facebook Safe? It might Not Be for Your Teen" »

U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up Gay Marriage in March

February 5, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Prop 8.jpgIn March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on two cases that could have a profound effect on same-sex marriages in California and across the country.

Status of California's Proposition 8

One case is close to home. In 2008, Californians approved Proposition 8, which added a new provision to the State Constitution that state "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Proposition 8 was quickly appealed and the outcome of the case rests with the U.S. Supreme Court, which will issue a ruling in June. The issue in this case is whether Americans have a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

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Marriage Licenses Renewals To Prevent Santa Rosa Divorces?

January 1, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

divorce.jpgBryan L. Salamone and Associates P.C. wrote an interesting post about expiring marriage licenses. In their post, it was noted that last year, it was reported that lawmakers in Mexico were considering legislation that would have created temporary marriage licenses as a solution to the rising number of divorces in the country. According to a Reuters report, statistics showed that in Mexico most divorce actions commenced within the first two years of marriage. In the nation's capital, Mexico City, nearly one in two marriages ended in divorce.

The idea behind the law was that the temporary marriage licenses would be granted for a period of at least two years. At the end of this trial period, the couple could either renew the license for any desired time period or they could just let the marriage expire. The law would have included provisions for how would happen to the property and children should the couple decide not to renew the license.

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