Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court OK'd federal benefits for married same-sex couples in California. But this does not necessarily mean Real Estate agents can treat all wedded people the same way when it comes to property transactions.
The patchwork of state gay marriage laws presents confusing issues for same-sex couples and their agents and brokers.
- As of this writing, 18 states and eight Native American tribal jurisdictions currently recognize gay marriage, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. In general, sexual orientation is irrelevant for married couples owning properties in these states.
- If a gay couple married in one of these states buys property in a state where same-sex marriage is not recognized, then their ownership is the same as two unrelated people buying Real Estate. There are exceptions. For example, Oregon, which does not allow same-sex marriage, recognizes such relationships sanctioned in other states.
- Gay couples who have other types of legal relationships, such as domestic partnerships or civil unions, are treated as unrelated people for property transactions. This is true even if they buy a home in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Unless a same-sex couple is married and buys a home in a state that recognizes their marriages, their legal ownerships options for property ownerships vary.
- Joint tenancy is the choice most similar to a legally wed couple. If one person dies, the other automatically gets the home.
- Tenants in common gives an equal half-share to each person who can dispose of it as he or she likes. If one person dies, the other person's heirs receive the share and can dispose of their half without consulting the survivor.