Task force considers legislative enactments to conform existing law to Goodridge

Issue June 2005 By Andrea R. Barter, Esq.

The task force charged with analyzing the impact Goodridge has had on state and federal law reported to the May House of Delegates meeting that more questions have been raised than answers.

“If any firm conclusion may be drawn from the task force’s work, it is that the issues are complex and we need to study them more,” said task force member Deborah A. Rudolf, Plymouth.

The interim report accepted at the meeting outlines the Medusa-like complexity of issues the task force encountered when analyzing statutes from the areas of family law, taxation, probate law, trust and estate planning, real estate and labor and employment law.
To implement the law set forth in Goodridge, the task force is considering omnibus legislation to conform existing statutory references to “spouses,” “wives,” “husbands,” “dependents,” “marriage” and “marital,” which appear in innumerable sections of the Massachusetts General Laws. Omnibus legislation would lend gender neutrality to existing gender-specific language in many instances.

Omnibus legislation only a start However, there are many provisions of the Massachusetts General Laws that pertain to marriage, separate support, and divorce that cannot be addressed solely by the passage of omnibus legislation — primarily those that codify the rights and obligations of husbands and wives to one another and those regarding financial obligations and property rights between spouses that originated from the common law. The task force is considering a section-by-section approach to amend these laws to comply with the ruling in Goodridge.

More specific and substantive concerns relate to those areas of Massachusetts law that interplay with federal law. Of particular interest and concern is the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which does not recognize same-sex marriages. Accordingly, matters relating to income, estate and gift taxation, ERISA, and Medicaid/Medicare need significant consideration and discussion, the task force reports.

The task force concedes that its work is not complete, and it will continue to explore the General Laws further to ensure it has addressed all post-Goodridge questions. The House of Delegates readily agreed to give the task force additional time to consider this complex matter.

Said task force chair Mark D. Mason, Cooley, Shrair, P.C., Springfield, “We are the only task force in the commonwealth, or in the country, studying this issue, so the work is quite important.”