You may be legally married in a particular state, but remember that in the eyes of the federal government, you are treated as a single person. This was a recurring message at Wednesday night's LGBT Marriage Forum in New York City, an event organized by an alliance of wedding professionals to equip the LGBT community with tangible information about planning not just a wedding but a lasting marriage.
Here are a few highlights shared at the event:
1. "In some states we've reached a high level of equality, and [New York] offers us a warm embrace, but we must keep our eye on full marriage equality," said Cathy Marino-Thomas, Co-President of the Board of Marriage Equality USA. The work for the LGBT community and its allies will not be done until the federal government recognizes LGBT marriages as marriages and extends to LGBT married couples the same rights and benefits it already extends to heterosexual married couples. Marino urged the community to stay engaged in this issue as it makes its way through the legal system. On Sept. 24 the United States Supreme Court Justices will decide whether to take up several same-sex marriage cases, including the California Proposition 8 case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) and the lawsuit brought by a New York woman seeking to avoid having to pay federal estate taxes on the estate of her now-deceased wife (Windsor v. United States).
2. The laws of estate planning, adoption, and property ownership can be especially complex for LGBT couples, who are still getting a handle on the ins and outs of a fairly new body of rules and regulations that vary from state to state. Before you tie the knot, consult a lawyer and an accountant, advised the two lawyers speaking at the Marriage Forum, Christopher Goeken of the Law Office of Christopher S. Goeken and Gregory Matalon of Cappell Barnett Matalon & Schoenfeld LLP. Whether you're dealing with assumption of student loans or adopting the child your spouse is carrying, the smartest thing you can do is get informed, so that you're not hit later with unpleasant surprises.
3. The key to a lasting relationship is open communication, and too many couples fall into the trap of waiting too long to seek help when they encounter "rough spots" in their relationship, said psychotherapist Irna Gadd, a board member with the Association of Lesbian and Gay Affirmative Psychotherapists (ALGAP). "Asking for help is a sign of strength, and it doesn't mean something is wrong with you," she said. "If you're having problems, don't wait until they're insurmountable before you talk to someone about it." Too often, people say they don't want to go to couples counseling because the result is inevitably a breakup. "That's much more likely to be the case if you've waited too long," Gadd said. Her advice? Keep your ears open, and listen very carefully to yourself and to your partner.
4. Explore all your parenting options, and get yourself fully informed before you start, advised the three founders of It's Conceivable, a website dedicated to helping LGBT couples navigate their way through the mazes of insemination, surrogacy, and adoption. Kendra Eash, Diana Jerman, and Hannah Fishman lamented that when they first started thinking of building a family, there wasn't any one single place that they could visit to get all their questions answered. You need to know your rights, what agencies are known to be gay-friendly, and what it's been like for couples who have gone before you, they said.
5. Observe Wedding-Free Wednesdays! Brian Edwards is a newlywed who encouraged engaged couples to take time off from wedding planning to simply enjoy being engaged. "Go on a date," he said. "And don't talk about caterers, wedding invitations, or florists." And remember: Don't fall into the trap of thinking your wedding has to be outrageously unique just because you're gay. "There seems to be this expectation of gay couples that we all must have a 'big, gay wedding,'" Edwards said. "But there's no similar expectation of every straight wedding." It's just a wedding, he said. Make it what you want it to be. Edwards and his husband made national news when one of their engagement photos was used in anti-gay ads in Colorado. They are exploring their legal options with the aid of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The LGBT Marriage Forum was organized by AFTER "I DO," an alliance of wedding professionals thinking beyond the wedding day, including the people behind prequels.net (the author of this article), commongroundceremonies.com, falloncarterweddings.com, and violetandverde.com. The MC for the evening was Charlie the Matchmaker.