SCOTUS and the Genealogist

26 Jun 2013

The Supreme Court is often in the news for its decisions. Certainly today’s decisions have been a remarkable step forward for civil rights. But we often forget that these decisions actually filter down and make a huge impact in records for genealogical research. When the court makes decisions, oftentimes the ramifications impact recordkeeping.




Let us take today’s decisions about DOMA and Proposition 8 for example. How will this one decision of the court impact recordkeeping, and thus resources for future genealogists. In some ways, it will actually reduce the number of records available in the future. In others, it will increase them.

For example, same-sex married couples until now have been required to file three different tax returns. Their state taxes would be filed jointly as a married couple. But federal returns were required to be filed separately. Now, they will be able to file a single, joint return. This reduces the number of tax records from three to two.

Of course there will now be many new marriage records as well. California is the most populous state in the U.S. In the coming years, millions of same-sex couple will now be able to get married. The multitude of complicated (and expensive) legal documents that were previously needed to ensure the rights of these couple will no longer be necessary. This includes many documents regarding parental rights.

Existing records will also become more accurate. Census records, voter lists, etc., currently do not correctly reflect relationships. Now couples would be able to accurately state that they are legally married. American citizens will now be able to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex spouses for citizenship.

The list goes on and on. Supreme Court decisions may seem far removed from your day to day life, but they often have real-life impact. And part of that impact pertains to records, both old records that will no longer be kept, and new records that will occur because of those decisions. Future genealogists will have volumes of paperwork to work with to more fully document our lives.