Gay marriage legal in Arizona; now what?

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- The legalization of same sex-marriage in Arizona opens a whole new can of legal worms that hasn't previously been considered in the state -- from adoption to divorce and even employment rights.

“It's going to take years (to sort out),” said Douglas Gardner, family attorney at Davis Miles McGuire Gardner. “When you ask me these questions in three years, I'll give you much better answers."

According to Gardner, Arizona's legal system is far from ready to jump the logistical hurdles posed by same-sex marriage suddenly becoming the law of the land.

“Birth certificates still say father and mother, and I'm going to have to change my forms that have one spouse as the husband, therefore the other one's automatically the wife. And not just me, but the judges, the law, the whole statute is going to need to be changed to reflect that,” Gardner said.

One thing that does get easier for same-sex couples is adoption. Gay parents have traditionally struggled in Arizona because the state gives preference to married couples. Now, same-sex couples wishing to adopt from an agency or even adopting their spouse’s biological children can do so under existing laws.

“If one partner has a biological child, then the other partner, now that they are married, would be a stepparent," Gardner explained. "So this would facilitate a way for that other parent to do a stepparent adoption under Arizona laws."

Same-sex divorce also becomes easier.

“(Before gay marriage) we were using business partner law to divide up dogs and pets and children, and clearly it just didn't quite work,” Gardner said.

Employers also have to consider how the legal change affects their workplace. Spousal benefits offered by the company will be applicable to same-sex married couples in the same way as any other married couple.

“That’s really the bottom line, and really in employment laws, generally, the rule of thumb is that you should be applying your policies in a way that's equitable with all your employees regardless of their race, their sex and now sexual orientation at some level as well,” said Kevin Green, employment lawyer at Fennemore Craig Attorneys.

Another consideration that Gardner said still needs to be worked out logistically is how Arizona will go about recognizing same-sex marriages and adoptions from other states.