What does having a marriage license really mean?

Posted at: 08/23/2013 5:30 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

As marriage licenses are being issued, KOB Eyewitness News 4 wanted to know: What does that piece of paper mean?

According to lawyers, it all depends. Marriage has two meanings. There's a symbolic meaning that two people have formed a union to be together forever, but marriage also carries a legal benefit and that's where it gets tricky.

New Mexico is the only state in the country with no clear laws on marriage.

As a result, you now have two counties issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and county clerks around the state scratching their heads.

Because there is so much confusion, rapid movements, and no clear language, the state and many employers don't know how to handle it yet.

Lawyers believe the federal government doesn't consider New Mexico a same-sex marriage state, so it's unclear if federal benefits would trickle down to those married in New Mexico this week.

Private employers will have to talk to their insurance carriers and legal teams to figure out how to treat this new class of married people.

And, medical facilities will have to closely examine their policies to be sure they aren't excluding spouses out of important medical decisions.

Lawyers say it's all moving so quickly in New Mexico, and with no legislative or high court decision it's uncertain what, if any, benefits same-sex couples can enjoy today.

Traditionally, gay and lesbian couples in New Mexico have hired lawyers to ensure estates, wills and powers of attorney are in place for each other.

Until there is a clear message, lawyers advise it's not a bad idea to continue that.