Multiple status designations
A unique issue concerning LGBT families is how their previous non-marital status designations affects their rights to state and federal benefits for married couples and for survivors. There are many benefits for married couples which are dependent upon how long a couple have been married.
If same-sex couples were only granted the right to marry in California in 2013, how does this affect their right to state and federal benefits such as Medicare, Social Security, Medi-Cal, Veteran’s Benefits, etc.? For instance, a divorced spouse could be entitled to receive Social Security benefits if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer.
In California, same-sex couples had and continue to have the right to register as domestic partners. Domestic Partnerships are not the same as marriage, and the Supreme Court rulings allowing same-sex marriage in California in Hollingsworth v. Perry in 2013 did not invalidate or change any of the California Family Code sections related to registered domestic partners. In other words, a domestic partnership in California did not automatically transform into a marriage in California once same-sex marriage was permitted in California.
What about a civil union, civil partnership, domestic partnership, reciprocal beneficiary relationship, or other government-sanctioned relationship from other states or jurisdictions? Can those non-marital relationships be used as a basis to receive marital benefits? It depends.
Although the states and the federal government are now recognizing same-sex marriages, whether a previous status designation qualifies remains an issue for LGBT couples. Depending upon how the other state previously viewed the non-marital status, it may not qualify as a marital relationship sufficient to qualify for spousal benefits.