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Republican U.S. Representative Judy Biggert from Illinois recently declared that she considered same-sex marriage to be a state issue. She then went on to suggest that the federal government does not make laws regarding polygamy and bigamy, and that those are left up to the states.

It is unclear exactly what she meant by the comment because although federal law does not prohibit a same sex couple from marrying, it does prohibit people from having more than one spouse. Representative Biggert is correct to the extent that it has usually been the states which enforce their own bigamy and polygamy statutes. While the federal government may have laws on the books outlawing such practices, it has often come under criticism for failing to act on them – particularly, for example, in cases where young brides are trafficked across state lines in violation of the Mann Act.

Representative Biggert did state that she was in favor of civil unions. Civil unions are not marriages but same sex couples who enter into civil unions can, with proper planning, obtain some of the same benefits that are associated with marriage. For example, life partner agreements can help with estate planning and child custody issues.

Absent a formal life partner agreement, it is still possible to work out property division and other issues associated with living in, or, sometimes inevitably, ending a long-term relationship. There are professionals who specialize in helping same sex couples do just that. Just like in a traditional divorce, each party would benefit from separate representation. A pre-arranged agreement, however, can make the process much smoother.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Judy Biggert Gay Marriage Remarks: Illinois Congresswoman Compares Gay Marriage To Polygamy,” Joe Erbentraut, Oct. 26, 2012