Gay couples face big hurdle: Legally, they don't exist

The song says love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage -- you can't have one without the other.

But for thousands of gay couples in South Florida and across the country, the absence of matrimony means financial and legal disadvantages that number in the hundreds.

Only some of those issues can be remedied, and doing so requires careful planning many couples never address.

``The bottom line is you can't not plan,'' said Miami attorney Jerry Chasen. ``I don't kid myself. People have almost as much enthusiasm about coming to a lawyer to get this done as they do about going to the dentist.''

Chasen and other attorneys will be gathering this week in Miami Beach to discuss these issues at the national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Bar Association's annual conference. They are closely monitoring the battle for gay marriage in California, although individual state marriage laws don't solve all financial and legal issues.

The largest barrier is the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. That federal law recognizes marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

In 1997, the Government Accountability Office found that 1,049 federal rights, benefits and privileges are based on marital status. It found about 100 more after a 2003 update.

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