booknotes: making it legal

Through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program I was sent an advance review copy of the second edition of NOLO's Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnerships & Civil Unions, by attorneys Frederick Hertz and Emily Doskow (Berkeley, CA: NOLO, 2009; 2011). The book aims to be a practical nuts-and-bolts guide for same-sex couples considering marriage. It offers a whirlwind tour of the history of same-sex marriage, the current international and domestic context for such marriages, and the nitty-gritty of marriage and divorce laws as they apply to all couples -- as well as specific advice for same-sex couples who are considering forming legal relationships.

The authors go beyond describing legal rights and obligations and also discuss political activism and the emotional and sociocultural meaning -- and potential downsides -- of marriage commitments. Hertz, who appears to be the primary author of the text, describes himself as a cautious in his advice to couples seeking to enter marriage. "I'm often branded an antimarriage lawyer," he ruefully admits, "because I tend to focus on the risks and downsides of this powerfully attractive institution." He points out that "the legal structures of conventional marriage and the patchwork of nonrecognition by other jurisdictions create fairly serious legal problems for many couples, and it is just plain unwise for anyone to get married without understanding the potential risks and benefits" (3).

As someone in a lesbian relationship, and as someone who has actually discussed marriage with my partner, I found a lot of the practical legal information in this text helpful. Particularly useful are the state-by-state charts detailing what options, rights, and responsibilities same-sex couples have when entering into formal partnership agreements in different states. Hanna and I are fortunate enough to live in Massachusetts, one of the states that currently allows us to marry and enjoy all of the same state benefits as heterosexual married couples. However, these benefits do not extend to the federal level, nor would that marriage be considered valid in a number of other states (including my home state of Michigan) -- that's where the "nonrecognition" issue comes in. This means, practically, that same-sex marriage can be a bureaucratic headache. For example -- since it's that time of year -- married same-sex couples in the state of Massachusetts file a joint tax return at the state level ... but are single for the purposes of their federal tax returns. Which means creating a mock joint federal tax return and using those numbers for the state level returns. Even more tax paperwork -- the joy!

And if we ever moved across state lines for work or family need (or hell, for the pleasure of it) then the state we moved to would get to determine whether we were married or not, based on their own local laws. Not to mention if we decided to move internationally.

I found Making It Legal at its most annoying when it shifted away from describing the practial ramifications of same-sex partnership options (both forming and dissolving those partnerships) and attempted to tackle the other aspects of marriage, such as "applying logic to picking a partner." Wtf? Dude! You're not a trained marriage counselor so back the fuck off!

On the whole, though, it was a highly readable guide to the legal landscape, and one which I definitely plan on consulting as Hanna and I move forward with the business of making our relationship into a long-term reality ... however we decide to formally recognize it.

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