Beginning July 24, 2011, gay couples in New York will be able to apply for a marriage license. This will make New York the sixth and largest state to recognize gay marriage.
Florida, unlike New York, does not permit gay marriage, nor does it recognize civil unions. But there are things that partners can do to symbolize their love for one another and create certain rights and responsibilities. You just have to be creative.
Let me give you an example. One of the services that my firm offers is that we represent clients in name change matters. I have heard all different reasons why a client wants a name change, including that he or she (a) has done some things he or she is not proud of and wants to turn a new leaf, (b) wants to take on the qualities of a religious or historical figure by taking on part of that figure’s name, and (c) simply does not like his or her name.
One day, a young woman came in for a consultation, and she had a touching story to tell me. She said that she had been dating her partner for several years, and that they wanted to get married. But, of course, Florida does not permit gay marriage. However, this woman decided to declare her love and commitment by legally taking on her partner’s last name. I was able to guide her through the judicial process of symbolically affirming her dedication to her partner through a name change.
Keep in mind that, in Florida, there are requirements for a legal change of name when it does not occur through official marriage. Some of these requirements are that the petitioner must be domiciled in Florida, must not have his or her civil rights suspended (i.e., because of a felony conviction), and must have chosen a name that does not infringe on the intellectual property rights of others (so, you probably can’t take on the last name of “Coca-Cola”).
Another alternative for homosexual partners is to enter into a “cohabitation agreement.” This would be similar to a pre-nuptial agreement, and would define rights and responsibilities towards one another. For example, it could define how assets and liabilities would be handled both during the relationship and in the event that the partners decided to no longer live with one another (this is the equivalent of “equitable distribution” in a divorce proceeding). It could also state the terms under which one partner would be obliged to financially support the other partner (i.e., set the terms for “alimony”).
Such cohabitation agreements would likely be enforceable through contract law, which recognizes parties’ rights to freely enter into agreements when there has been an offer, acceptance, and consideration (the exchange of something of value or a promise to exchange something of value).
Another possibility: adoption. Up until last year, Florida had a ban on gay individuals adopting children. However, based on the ruling in Florida Department of Children and Families v. In re: the Matter of Adoption of X.X.G and N.R.G., 45 So. 3d 79 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010), homosexuality is no longer a bar to adopting a child.
Other options that gay couples should consider are health care surrogate designations, durable power of attorney grants, and estate planning choices.
Don’t let Florida’s laws be a stumbling block to the love between you and your partner. Learn about and take advantage of the creative options that are available to you.