Conflict of Laws and Property Rights in the Age of “Semi-Legal” Same-Sex Marriages

Author: Ryan Goellner, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

In the United States federalist system, fifty different states often arrive at fifty different conclusions of law that can conflict not only with each other but also with federal law. The Supremacy Clause usually allows for the resolution of the latter conflicts, whereas conflicts among the laws of different states are less easily resolved.  That is epitomized in the split between states that recognize same-sex marriages and those that do not. Although many have celebrated the recent abrogation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, the decision does not foreclose further conflicts over the treatment of same-sex marriages, whether between the federal government and the states, or among the states themselves.[1] These conflicts are particularly complex in the context of property rights in same-sex marriages. In light of conflict of law jurisprudence, there is pronounced confusion about how states that do not recognize same-sex marriages may treat those couples in cases of death and the disposition of property.

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