Legal Considerations for LGBTQ+ Couples Before Marriage

June 24, 2024
6 min

Understanding the legal considerations for LGBTQ+ couples before marriage is crucial in ensuring that you are fully aware of your rights and responsibilities. Since the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, LGBTQ+ couples have been granted the same legal recognition and protections as heterosexual couples in the US. However, navigating the legal landscape still requires careful attention to various factors such as inheritance rights, tax implications, and parental responsibilities in the US and abroad. 

Being informed about these legal issues helps LGBTQ+ couples to better protect their relationships and plan their futures.

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Understanding Marriage Equality and Rights for LGBTQ+ Couples

Since the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, marriage equality has been the law of the land in the United States. This ruling ensures that same-sex couples have the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples, including:

  1. The Right to Marry in Any State: Same-sex couples can legally marry in any state, without the fear of their marriage being invalidated by state laws.
  2. Recognition Across the Country: Marriages performed in any state must be recognized nationwide, ensuring that couples do not lose their marital status or rights when they move between states.
  3. Access to Federal Benefits and Protections: Married same-sex couples are entitled to the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples, including tax benefits, Social Security benefits, and immigration rights.
  4. International Recognition: For LGBTQ+ couples where one partner is a foreign national, marriage in the U.S. can provide a pathway to immigration benefits, such as a spouse visa. However, the recognition of marriage in other countries depends on the local laws regarding same-sex marriage. Couples should verify the legal status of their marriage in the respective country to ensure rights and benefits are upheld abroad.

How to Obtain a Marriage License in the US

All states in the US are legally required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, no matter their political or religious beliefs. The process for obtaining a marriage license is generally the same for all couples, but it’s essential to check specific state or local marriage license requirements. Typically, you will need the following:

  1. Valid identification (e.g., driver’s license, passport)
  2. Proof of age
  3. Fee for the marriage license
  4. Waiting period (varies by state)

Some states also allow you to get your marriage license online. Our guide on applying for a marriage license online goes through the topic in more depth.

Legal Name Change Process After Marriage

We’ll go over the general requirements for changing your name, but it’s a good idea to have a checklist on hand to ensure you don’t miss anything. 

For US Residents

1. Obtaining a certified copy of the marriage certificate

To begin the process of name change after marriage, obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate from the county clerk's office where your marriage was registered. This document is essential for updating legal records.

2. Updating Social Security information

Update your name with the Social Security Administration (SSA) by completing Form SS-5 and submitting it along with your certified marriage certificate, proof of identity, and any required supporting documents. This step ensures your new name is recognized by federal agencies.

3. Changing your name on your driver’s license and state ID

Visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office with your updated Social Security card, certified marriage certificate, and current driver's license or state ID. Follow their process for updating your identification documents.

4. Changing your name on your passport

Use this wizard from the State Department to determine which form you will need to apply for a new passport or renew an existing one with your new name.

5. Notifying financial institutions and employers

Contact your bank, credit card companies, employer, and other relevant institutions to inform them of your name change. Provide them with copies of your updated identification documents as required.

This information applies specifically to name changes after marriage in the US. If you're looking for information on name changes for other reasons (e.g., LGBTQ+ name change), consult with an attorney in your state.

For Foreigners with a US Marriage Certificate

Foreigners can also change their name in their home country using a US marriage certificate. Here's a general idea of the process:

1. Check Marriage Validity

Ensure your US marriage certificate is recognized by your home country. Typically, countries accept foreign marriage certificates if they comply with local regulations.

2. Obtain Certified Copies and Translations

Get certified copies of your US marriage certificate. If required, have it translated into your home country's official language by a certified translator.

3. Authenticate or Apostille the Certificate

Some countries may require the US marriage certificate to be legalized or apostilled to be valid for official use.

4. Submit to Relevant Authorities

Provide the certified and, if necessary, translated marriage certificate to the relevant authorities in your home country (e.g., civil registry, immigration office).

5. Follow Local Name Change Procedures

Adhere to your home country's specific procedures for changing your name, which may include updating your national ID, passport, and other legal documents.

Note: This is a general guideline. Specific requirements may vary by country. It's always recommended to consult with an attorney or local authorities in your home country for the most up-to-date information.

Adoption and Parental Rights

Whether you are considering adoption or becoming a foster parent, LGBTQ+ individuals should be well-informed and prepared for the journey ahead. Note that requirements can vary widely between states and countries.

Adoption within the US

U.S. federal law does not prohibit LGBTQ+ citizens or same-sex couples from being adoptive parents. However, parental rights and adoption can vary significantly by state. Key points to consider:

  • Second-Parent Adoption: In many states, the non-biological parent can legally adopt their partner’s biological child through second-parent adoption, ensuring full parental rights.
  • Joint Adoption: Some states allow LGBTQ+ couples to jointly adopt a child, granting both parents equal legal rights from the outset.
  • Foster Care: LGBTQ+ couples are eligible to become foster parents across the US, though specific regulations can vary significantly by state. This provides an avenue for providing stable homes to children in need.

The Human Rights Campaign also offers a great resource for LGBTQ+ couples starting their adoption journey.

Adoption outside the US

International adoption offers a path to parenthood for LGBT individuals and couples, but it presents unique challenges compared to domestic adoption.

There is some global acceptance of same-sex adoption. Around 39 countries allow joint adoption by same-sex couples, often aligning with those permitting same-sex marriage. However, the legal landscape is complex. Some countries, like Mexico and Czechia, allow stepchild adoption for same-sex couples even with variations in marriage laws.

Experienced international adoption agencies are crucial. They can guide you through the legal complexities and help you select a country with adoption-friendly policies for LGBTQ+ individuals or couples.

Despite progress, adoption by LGBTQ+ individuals and couples is still debated globally. Advocacy efforts continue to fight for equal parental rights. For same-sex couples considering international adoption, understanding legal contexts and seeking professional guidance are crucial steps towards building a family.

If you’re beginning to research, the U.S. State Department provides a wealth of resources and country-specific information for LGBTQ+ couples seeking to adopt a child from abroad. 

US Immigration Considerations

The US immigration system recognizes same-sex marriages, offering pathways for LGBTQ+ individuals to achieve family unity. Here's a breakdown of two key areas:

Spousal visas:

  • U.S. citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their same-sex spouse for a green card through a spousal visa process.
  • This eliminates discrimination based on sexual orientation and offers a path to permanent residence for the foreign national spouse.


  • LGBTQ+ individuals facing persecution in their home country on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity may be eligible for asylum in the U.S.
  • LGBTQ+ asylum offers protection and a chance to build a new life in the United States.

It is highly recommended to consult with a lawyer before beginning your visa application. Courtly provides an affordable, no-commitment consultation with an expert immigration lawyer to ensure you are fully prepared. Learn more about our visa consultation offer here.

How Courtly Can Help

Facing limitations due to location or sexual orientation? Courtly simplifies the marriage process, officiating online weddings for all couples regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, or location. This can be particularly valuable for LGBTQ+ couples in regions that don't recognize same-sex marriage, or for couples seeking to ease the immigration process to the US with a legal US marriage certificate.

Let us handle the paperwork.

Getting married is complicated. Courtly simplifies the process and provides everything necessary to get married online, including providing a licensed officiant who can perform a remote ceremony.

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