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NY could profit from legalizing gay marriage

A lot of people are happy to see same-sex marriage legal in New York: lawyers, marriage counselors, insurance agents.
Candy Casey, left, kisses Diane Wnek, after a group same-sex marriage in Niagara Falls on Monday.
Candy Casey, left, kisses Diane Wnek, after a group same-sex marriage in Niagara Falls on Monday.David Duprey / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A lot of people are happy to see same-sex marriage legal in New York: lawyers, marriage counselors, insurance agents.

The effect of New York becoming the sixth state to allow gay marriage is expected to ripple beyond the couples tying the knot to the professionals who offer marriage-related services, with some saying it could bring in a significant new stream of people looking to use what they offer.

"I've been practicing since 1988 ... I've never seen the kind of an influx of potential new clients like this," said Lois Liberman, a matrimonial lawyer in New York City.

Census figures put the number of same-sex couples in New York at more than 65,000. Hundreds of couples got married starting Sunday, in ceremonies all over the state.

A May 2011 report by the Independent Democratic Conference on the economic impact of recognizing marriage between same-sex partners in New York state would create $311 million in increased revenue and economic activity during the next three years.

Married same-sex couples would also be less likely to need or be eligible for assistance since their combined incomes and assets would exceed program thresholds. Therefore, the state could expect a savings of more than $80 million in Supplemental Security Income and other assistance programs.

While the legalization of same-sex marriage was the end point of a yearslong struggle, just being able to get a marriage license is only the beginning, said Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist in Denver who works on marriage education.

"It's not as simple as starting Sunday, you can go to City Hall and live happily ever after," she said. "Marriage is both an emotional partnership and a business partnership."

That creates opportunities for professionals like marriage counselors and lawyers, she said.

Chris Mongeau gets that. Among the details he has to take care of before his October wedding to Stuart Vincent, his partner of three years, is taking care of legal documents like wills and health care proxies.

"It's not just a simple matter of getting a license and going through a ceremony. It's building a life," the 52-year-old psychologist said.

Dr. Mikki Meyer, a therapist with offices in New York City and Ulster County, said therapists and counselors could see an uptick in business as couples newly eligible for marriage seek out premarital counseling. She said there could also be those who need help coming to grips with family relationships and other issues that may not have come up before a wedding was legally possible — such as relatives who may have accepted a gay couple living together but now balk at the idea of a legal ceremony, for example.

"Just because it's legal doesn't mean everybody is going to accept it," she said. "People will want to know, 'How can I best handle this?'"

Gay couples could also have other legal and financial issues to consider as they plan to change their marital status, Liberman said. Same-sex spouses could be added to insurance policies. Pre-nuptial agreements could be necessary — if a couple has been together for some time and built up assets together, there could be questions about what would be considered marital property. Someone who never worried about inherited money might feel differently if it becomes something that would be divided up if the relationship fell apart.

"Just as you have gold diggers who are out there in the heterosexual world, you have gold diggers in the homosexual world," she said.

Even couples who have amassed legal documents to cover themselves might want to revisit them in the wake of going from unmarried partner to legal spouse.

Carole Goldstein, a research librarian in Queens, thinks she might do just that. She and her partner, Jacqueline Shore, have been together more than 25 years and have drawn up all kinds of legal documents over that time. Some, like her will, haven't been updated in a decade, something she may want to address with the help of a lawyer.

"I'm not the kind of person to try to do stuff on my own. I would be consulting somebody," the 57-year-old said.

The women want to get married this year, and Goldstein has recently started thinking beyond the emotional aspect of having the right to get married to the practical aspect of it.

"It's a chance to have legal rights, but those rights are complicated. There's lot of paper so I want to be having my I's dotted and my T's crossed," she said.

And while same-sex marriage is legal in New York and a handful of other places, federal law doesn't recognize it. That has an impact on how couples would file state and federal tax returns, said Linda Lea Viken, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Couples might need the services of financial planners and accountants.

She said the ripple effect could also affect lawyers in other states. Couples could come from those other states to tie the knot here, but would have to determine whether their particular states would recognize their unions, which could require consultation with lawyers in the places they're from.

"Every state is going to be different as to how and to what degree they recognize what another state does," she said.

Mongeau said reality made it important to have documents drawn up that spelled out things such as him and Vincent being responsible for making health care decisions for each other if circumstances required it, and not assuming that simply having a marriage certificate would be enough.

"We're married in New York," he said. "We cross state lines, our marriage ceases to exist."

And ultimately, just as among heterosexual marriages, some same-sex marriages won't work out, even between partners who have been together for years, Liberman said.

"Sadly, there are many people who live together, then they get married, then they get divorced in the first year," she said. That will create a need for attorneys as well.

"People are people. They're going to be divorced, too," she said.