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June 20, 2014
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Nevada County attorneys present same-sex marriage programs

Jennifer L. Wilkerson (certified specialist in estate planning, trusts and probate) and Joseph Bell (certified specialist in family law) will present a two-part program on same-sex relationships and marriage on June 24 and July 22, at 7 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains hall at 246 South Church St., Grass Valley. The public is invited.

The first program, presented by Wilkerson on June 24, is Estate Planning for Couples.

The second program, presented by Bell on July 22, is Same Sex Marriage: Evolution and Revolution in Family Law.

More complex versions of both programs were originally presented to members of the Nevada County Bar Association at the 16th annual Family Law Update, sponsored by the bar and the Nevada County Superior Court, on April 10.

Both programs address the everyday impacts and evolving rights questions now common for same-sex couples after decisions by the California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court on “gay marriage” issues last year.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic rulings in the companion cases of United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.

With these two decisions, the court removed the final differences between the legal statuses of California’s same-sex couples (formerly limited to domestic partnerships) and couples in civil marriages.

The Windsor case determined that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was enacted by Congress in 1996, is unconstitutional.

The court concluded that DOMA’s illegal purpose was to treat same-sex unions as “second class marriages for the purposes of federal law.” In summary, the Windsor case held that DOMA deprived same-sex couples of equal liberties that are protected by the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution.

Consequently, all federal marital rights (more than 1,100 areas of federal law) must now be equally applied to same-sex married couples. That includes federal tax law benefits and exemptions.

Bell will recount the historical development of marriage law from the earliest forms of family ties, through religious and civil marriage, to domestic partnerships and now same sex unions, which are legally equal in all ways to heterosexual marriage in California.

Wilkerson will explain how same-sex couples planning for the disposition of their assets and estate after the death of one spouse can now take advantage of rights formerly restricted to heterosexual spouses.

The Hollingsworth case addressed the question of the rights of the voters in California to adopt restrictive laws requiring unequal treatment of same-sex couples who seek to marry.

The law at issue in this case was Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage, which was adopted by California voters on Nov., 2008.

After Prop 8 was found unconstitutional by a federal court in California, the ballot measure supporters sought to reverse that decision.

The court refused, finding that the supporters did not even have the right to sue.

Since these decisions a year ago, same-sex marriage has become fully legal in 17 states, and there are more than 70 marriage cases pending in state and federal courts.

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The Union Updated Jun 22, 2014 10:49AM Published Jun 20, 2014 11:37PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.