Now that it's legal: same-sex marriage and the law

a blank Oregon marraige certificateSo by now it’s getting to be old news: same-sex couples in Oregon have the right to marry on equal footing with opposite-sex couples.  Many Oregonians are breathing a sigh of relief, and some are ready to plan their weddings right now!   Deciding whether or not to marry can be a very personal and emotional matter.  And planning a wedding, goodness knows, has myriad practical, interpersonal and emotional aspects.

But deciding whether to marry and/or planning a wedding may also have legal implications.  For same-sex couples, the legal implications can be complex, unfamiliar or just plain unclear.  Never fear, though -- librarians are here to help!  Let’s pick apart some of the questions same-sex couples might face as they consider marriage:

Deciding if you want to marry

The opening up of Oregon marriage laws is an unequivocal joy for some couples who want to marry.  For other individuals and couples, this new ability to marry legally here in our home state raises both questions and concerns.

One great way to navigate this challenge is to learn more about your options.  The local PQ Monthly’s April/May 2014 issue is all about weddings, and includes both practical and philosophical articles with a variety of perspectives.

There is lots of information in this post about getting married and about the legal implications of marriage -- what about not getting married?  Unmarried Equality is a California-based civil rights organization which advocates for “equality and fairness for unmarried people, including people who are single, choose not to marry, cannot marry, or live together before marriage.”  Their website provides information about and support for a variety of ways to be unmarried, as well as some resources for and about people who consciously choose not to marry.

Actually getting married

Have you decided to marry?  In Oregon, the first technical step in getting married is to get a license, from the county in which you will wed.  The Multnomah County Division of Assessment, Recording & Taxation issues marriage licenses in Multnomah County, and their website lists all the requirements and fees for getting a marriage license -- and explains the steps you’ll follow once you have your license. The ACLU of Oregon also has a helpful FAQ about getting married in Oregon, which includes a directory of the marriage license offices for all 36 Oregon counties.

Once you have your license, you’ll need to find an officiant -- usually this is a religious leader or judge.  Your county clerk or registrar’s office may have a list of judges and other officials who can perform a marriage.  Here’s a list of Multnomah County judges who are available to marry people (pdf), from the county recorder’s office.

Next, have your ceremony!  

Miscellaneous practical matters

Making it Legal bookjacketMarriage can change your tax status or have an effect on your estate planning, property ownership, child custody arrangements, and a whole host of other business-like issues.  Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-sex Marriage, Domestic Partnerships & Civil Unions, by Frederick C. Hertzwit & Emily Doskow (both attorneys!) is chock full of practical information and advice about the many legal and practical issues that arise for same-sex couples who marry or register their relationships.  The book is extra new -- just updated in January 2014 -- and should have mostly up-to-date information (though Oregon marriage law changed in May, so remember to look to more current resources for specifics on Oregon same-sex marriage specifically).

If Making it Legal isn’t for you, check out one of these other books about LGBTQ couples and the law.


Dare I say it, you may also want to think about what will happen if your relationship doesn’t last until death do you part.  If this is an issue you want to consider, it might be helpful just to hear about other LGBTQ people’s experiences with divorce.  Kathryn Martini’s thoughtful column about her own divorce in the July 2013 issue of the local PQ Monthly is one place to start.

Making it Legal also talks about special issues in same-sex divorces -- as do several of the library’s other books on LGBTQ couples and the law.  Or, you might want to consult with an attorney to get advice about your own unique situation:

Getting expert legal help

Do you have other specific questions about marriage and its implications for your taxes, child custody, inheritance and the like?  If so, you may want to get personal legal advice.  Or perhaps you and your spouse have already married or entered into a formal domestic or civil partnership, and you have questions about your status.  I’m a librarian and not an attorney, so I can’t give legal advice.  But librarians are always happy to help you locate resources!  

Here are a couple of great places to start with your specific same-sex marriage legal questions:

The civil rights organization Lambda Legal has a legal help desk (email or call 1-866-542-8336) which “provides information and assistance regarding discrimination related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and HIV status.”  Lambda Legal also maintains a number of resources you can use to see the status of same-sex relationships nationwide, or track the constantly changing legal issues around marriage and family law for LGBTQ individuals, couples and families, including legal issues for same-sex couples who are not able to or who do not marry.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights provides legal assistance to people with LGBTQ-related legal questions, as well as a small library of resources on specific legal issues

And, the Oregon State Bar has a lawyer referral service that you can use to help get in touch with a local attorney who works in the right area of law for your specific needs.


Do you have other questions?

Please, ask a librarian anytime for more resources to help with your queer legal research (or really, with your anything research!).  Or visit your local county law library for a wider range of legal materials. 

Although we are always happy to help you locate resources and give you search tips, it is against state law for library staff members to engage in any conduct that might constitute the unauthorized practice of law; we may not interpret statutes, cases or regulations, perform legal research, recommend or assist in the preparation of forms, or advise patrons regarding their legal rights.


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