One of the consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is that all of the old methods for getting around a same-sex marriage ban or lack of recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships became obsolete or actual impediments to other legal actions under the new laws. In what is easily one of the best examples of this form of unintended consequence is the case of Bill Novak and Norman MacArthur, two men in their late 70’s who have been a couple for more than fifty years and who have been, for the past fourteen years, father and son.
When they moved to Pennsylvania in the 1990’s, Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban precluded recognition of their New York domestic partnership. They lose the state protections New York affords domestic partnerships, but still would not have had any Federal protections. Rather than risk not having legal protections of any kind related to their estates, accounts, or access to the other’s medical information, they took the step of having Mr. Novak legally adopt Mr. MacArthur as his son. The rationale was that in doing so, they established a familial status which could affect, among other things, estate taxes in the event of a death and next-of-kin status in the event of medical issues. In the absence of having those rights as a spouse, having the more limited rights of next-of-kin or child was the next best option.
Ironically enough, the legalization of same-sex marriage was not immediately available to him; a father cannot marry his son. So having taken the unusual step of adoption, they took the equally unusual step of asking the court to dissolve their adoption. Recently, Gary B. Gilman of the Bucks County Orphans’ Court granted their request to dissolve their adoption and cleared the way for their marriage. There is some public policy justification for not dissolving an adoption, since adoptions involve assuming the legal rights and obligations of being a parent. Mr. Novak and Mr. MacArthur’s situation, however, clearly demonstrated to the Court that an alternative, better form of legal protection is now available to them and overrides any public policy concerns related to dissolving the adoption.
I am sure there are other examples where the legalization of same-sex marriage and Federal court rulings have caused people in other domestic situations around the state to reexamine the steps they took to ensure certain legal protections and decide whether need to or want to use the tools available to them under the present laws. Certainly, the era of undertaking extraordinary and creative efforts to gain legal protections, such as adopting your partner, has passed.