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A New Frontier in Minnesota Family Law—Deciphering Minnesota's Marriage Equality Bill Image

A New Frontier in Minnesota Family Law—Deciphering Minnesota's Marriage Equality Bill

Posted by: Andrew M. Tatge

On May 14, 2013 Minnesota officially became the 12th U.S. state to approve same sex marriage when Governor Mark Dayton appeared before a crowd outside the state capitol in St. Paul to sign a marriage equality bill into law. HF 1054 makes Minnesota’s marriage law gender neutral. The legislation also contains language for exemptions based on religious association in response to the argument made by some religious institutions that they will be penalized for honoring their religious beliefs and not marrying same sex couples.  The Bill was passed by the House on May 9, 2013, and the Senate on May 13, 2013.  The law goes into effect August 1, 2013 – on that date the first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples will be allowed to take part in legally recognized marriage ceremonies.

The Bill amends Minnesota Statute §517.01, which read, “Marriage, so far as validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract between a man and a woman,to which the consent of the parties, capable in law of contracting, is essential.  Lawful marriage may be contracted only between persons of the opposite sex and only when a license has been obtained as provided by law…” The statute now reads, “A civil marriage, so far as validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract between two persons, to which the consent of the parties, capable in law of contracting, is essential.  A lawful civil marriage may be contracted only when a license has been obtained as provided by law…”  After August 1, 2013 any reference to the word “marriage” in Minnesota law will be changed to “civil marriage” and a marriage between two people of the same sex will be recognized in Minnesota in the exact same manner as a marriage between a man and a woman.

The Bill also removes the portion from Minnesota Statute §517.03 that prohibited marriages between persons of the same sex and further refused to recognize those marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions.  After August 1, 2013 a marriage entered into between a same sex couple that was legally performed in another state will be recognized in Minnesota.

The Bill also added two subdivisions to Minnesota Statute §517.09, which protect religious institutions should they refuse to solemnize a same sex marriage.  The additions read, “Each religious organization, association, or society has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine, policy, teachings, and beliefs regarding who may marry within that faith. A licensed or ordained member of the clergy or other person authorized by section 517.04 to solemnize a civil marriage is not subject to any fine, penalty, or civil liability for failing or refusing to solemnize a civil marriage for any reason.”  Further, “Except for secular business activities engaged in by a religious association…no religious association, religious corporation, or religious society shall be required to provide goods or services at the solemnization or celebration of any civil marriage or be subject to civil liability or any action by the state that penalizes, fines, or withholds any benefit to the religious association, religious corporation, or religious society under the laws of this state, including, but not limited to, laws regarding tax exempt status, for failing or refusing to provide goods or services at the solemnization or celebration of any civil marriage, if providing such goods or services would cause the religious association, religious corporation, or religious society to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The new Bill also altered Minnesota Statute §518.07, which lays out the residence requirement for a dissolution to be granted in the state of Minnesota.  The requirement has long been that one of the parties to the dissolution must have resided in the state of Minnesota for at least 180 days before the start of the proceeding or that one of the parties must have been a domiciliary of Minnesota for at least 180 days prior to the dissolution proceeding.  A second subdivision has been added that accounts for the dissolution of the marriage of a same sex couple that was married in Minnesota but has never resided or been domiciled there.  It provides that Minnesota retains jurisdiction over such a dissolution if 1.  The civil marriage was performed in Minnesota, and 2.  Neither party resides in a jurisdiction that will recognize an action for dissolution by a same sex couple.  This is an effort, by the legislature, to allow same sex couples who reside in another state that does not recognize same sex marriage to come to Minnesota, obtain a marriage license, and then if they later want a dissolution of that marriage, be able to do so in the state of Minnesota.

With the legalization of same sex marriage it is important that same sex couples planning on becoming legally married after August 1st assess their situation and determine if they would benefit from an antenuptial agreement or additional estate planning.  If you are someone affected by the enactment of HF 1054 please do not hesitate to contact an experienced Family Law Attorney at Gislason & Hunter LLP.  We are available to answer specific questions or to simply aide you in deciphering the new law.

This information is general in nature and should not be construed as tax or legal advice.