One more stumbling block in the path of same-sex unions seeking legitimacy has been removed, at least in Pennsylvania.
In the last few decades, the laws in the United States regarding same-sex unions created a patchwork quilt of rights that varied widely among the states.
Same-sex couples who considered themselves married in every sense of the word except legally often faced serious discrimination when dealing with important issues while their partners were alive. This included the right to be there in the hospital room with a dying partner who was unable to speak for him or herself and not be turned away by biological family members who disapproved of the relationship.
The issues they could face when one of the partners died were even worse. Couples knew that there was the potential that family members would contest even the most carefully drafted of wills—especially if it involved significant wealth or assets. And, because of prejudices against same-sex relationships among some members of the judiciary and laws that traditionally favor biological relatives over legal strangers, a close relative might actually win.
That could end up depriving a surviving partner, especially one that had functioned in a domestic role and had little independent income or financial security and a home—often right when they were entering their senior years.
That led some couples to get creative. One of those methods was through adult adoption where one same-sex partner would adopt the other partner, creating a legal parent-child relationship that came with all of the rights given to biological children, including that of an unquestionable right of inheritance.
Unfortunately, that left some couples in Pennsylvania in an unusual legal bind once same-sex marriage was legalized nationally—they found themselves unable to dissolve their adoptive relationship in order to finally get married.
Initially, the lower court in Pennsylvania refused to dissolve one such adult adoption, saying it lacked the authority to do so absent any compelling reason. However, the Superior Court has now reversed that decision, saying that state law permits adult adoptions to be dissolved when none of the parties are opposed.
While it may seem like a relatively minor ruling, it's a huge victory for same-sex couples who found themselves trapped in a legal relationship that prevented them from enjoying the benefits of a different legal relationship—marriage.
If you need help dissolving an adult adoption created solely for inheritance rights, an attorney can provide you with more information.
Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette, "Adoption decision ends marriage predicament for gay couples in Pennsylvania," Chris Potter, Dec. 22, 2016