Florida Says Yes To Same-Sex Marriage - Changes Are Already Happening

Earlier this month, Florida became the 36th state to lift its ban on same-sex marriage and opened the door for gay and lesbian couples to say, “I do.” The long-awaited ruling not only affords same-sex couples the right to a marriage license, but also to other perks heterosexual couples have experienced for years.

Let’s look at what’s transpired in the short time since Florida legalized same-sex matrimony:

Adoption

A Palm Beach County Judge ruled that both women in a lesbian couple are an infant’s parents. The 7-week-old girl was born in December, 2014 after one woman became pregnant through in-vitro fertilization. The couple had married in New York in 2012.

Florida law recognizes that a baby born to a married couple as a result of in-vitro fertilization is the child of both husband and wife, but the judge extended that recognition to the spouse of the child-bearing wife, now that Florida recognizes same-sex marriages. Before the ban was lifted earlier this month, the non-child-bearing woman would have had to adopt the child.
Tourism

LGBT online directories for same-sex nuptial vacation spots, hotels and venues are seeing a huge spike in web traffic and an influx of interest from advertisers. Large hoteliers that did not invest their dollars in this market before, now want to be front and center on gay-friendly sites when couples are planning their weddings in Florida.

When the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage in July of 2011, New York City alone generated some $259 million in spending related to gay weddings in the first year. Florida tourism specialists are projecting — and, in some cases, already seeing — that trend in the Sunshine State.

Now that same-sex Floridian brides and grooms don’t have to leave the state to get their marriage license, Florida can be the ultimate gay wedding destination both for them and also for out-of-towners who want to exchange vows on the state’s white, sandy beaches.

Property

Same-sex married couples who own their homes can now change the way their property is deeded, holding it in a way that wasn’t available to them before same-sex marriage became legal this month.

The option of becoming “tenants by the entireties,” instead of “joint tenants with the rights of survivorship,” is now available. One advantage to tenancy by the entirety is avoiding a homestead-related bump up in assessed property value when one spouse dies. Higher assessed property values generally result in higher taxes.

Same-sex married couples must now change their homestead exemptions. When unmarried, these couples were legally allowed to have separate homestead exemptions, which reduce property taxes, if each person claimed a separate primary residence. That’s not legal for married couples. This means a same-sex married couple can have only one homestead exemption anywhere in the world as of Jan. 1, 2016. If they have two homesteads, they have to give one up for 2016.

There are a couple of other property-related benefits that married couples receive that now apply to same-sex married couples. Homeowners should get legal advice before proceeding.

Divorce

Before the Florida January 6th decision, same-sex couples were trapped in legal uncertainty sometimes known in gay and lesbian circles as “wed-lock.” They had married in other states, but Florida considered their union illegal and would not divorce them. Nor could they dissolve their marriage in the state in which they were wed due to long residency requirements for divorce.

Dissolution of marriage may not be easy, but not having access to it can make life even more complex. Before this month’s decision, same-sex couples in Florida, who married in another state and were unable to divorce, could not get on with their lives.

What’s Next

The United States Supreme Court has now decided to take four cases on the issue of whether same-sex couples nationwide have a right to marry under the Constitution. The justices will review four appellate rulings that upheld bans on same-sex unions in four different states.

The number of states that permit same-sex marriage has nearly doubled in three months as a result of federal and state court rulings. This month, Florida became the 36th state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The case will be argued in April and a decision is expected by late June.