Allowing gay and lesbian partners to have full, legal equality provides a same-sex couple the ability to protect their family. Simply put, it keeps them healthy, productive, and off the dole.
When legal marriage is offered to same-sex couples, it will show that America is ready to resume its place as a leader in civil rights for all citizens. This includes equal treatment in all civil matters, as is promised in the Constitution, as well as the right to legal marriage, which is spelled out in Supreme Court decisions.
Access to legal marriage is a win for everyone. When same-sex families are protected by marriage laws during times of crisis, communities are provided with stability.
Contrary to the theocratic rants about the downfall of civilization, no harm to society has been created by the legal marriages that have been available for years in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Massachusetts, and Spain.
None of those counties has collapsed. Interestingly, Massachusetts has one of the lowest divorce rates in the nation.
—— Legal Marriage Defined —
The word “marriage” has two major meanings. One is a civil, legal status. The other is a religious or social status.
In America, legal marriage is a civil matter controlled by the state, not any religion. This separation of church and state is critical to equal treatment for all citizens.
Legal marriage triggers, at least, 150-to-350 laws in every American state. Washington was 423 laws that are triggered by legal marriage.
On the Federal level, there are more than 1,138 such laws. These civil laws, in order to be just and fair, should apply to all citizens equally.
[Please see our article: U.S. Federal Laws for the Legally Married]
The civil right of legal marriage is not just a mere matter of semantics, culture, or social grace. It is the right to be considered a full adult, and be treated the same as any other U.S. citizen.
—— Economic Impact —
Denial of marriage protections often creates serious economic losses. Many marriage laws kick in during times of crisis. The critical areas include:
Because America is the only industrialized nation in the world without universal health care, for the majority, the only way to get medical coverage is through a workplace. Most workplaces do not offer benefits to a partner unless they are legally married. The problem is compounded when a workplace will not cover insurance for the children of an un-married partner.
- Automatic Assumption of Spouse’s Pension
- Automatic Inheritance
- Automatic Housing Lease Transfer
- Bereavement Leave
- Burial Determination
- Certain Property Rights
- Child Custody and Visitation
- Crime Victim’s Recovery Benefits
- Domestic Violence Protection (most cities won’t cover same-sex partner abuse)
- Exemption from Property Tax on Partner’s Death
- Immigration access for the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen
- Immunity from Testifying Against Spouse
- Insurance Breaks
- Joint Adoption and Foster Care
- Joint Bankruptcy
- Joint Parenting (insurance coverage, school records)
- Medical Decisions on Behalf of Partner
- Reduced Rate Memberships
- Sick Leave to Care for Partner
- Visitation of Partner in Hospital or Prison
- Wrongful Death (loss of consort) Benefits
—— No Religion Required —
In America, there is no state church, and no religious body has the right to dictate state policy. Civil marriage laws have been the sole domain of individual states until the anti-marriage, anti-state rule Federal “DoMA” law in 1996.
State marriage licenses are not religious in any way. They are legal contracts made between the couple and the state, not with any religious body.
Clergy are not required for a license to be completed. The couple does not need to be a member of any church or temple. The marriage license does not require, as some churches do, that the couple be together “till death do you part.”
—— No Children Required —
Marriage licenses have never required there be progeny. Therefore, it makes no sense to claim that gay men and lesbians be refused marriage because of lack of offspring.
The reality is that many gay men and lesbians have children. However, they are denied the right to raise those children within a marital relationship. This can impact custody issues, as well as insurance, and medical care.
—— Tradition —
Marriages, as we know them today, do not look the same as they did several hundred years ago. State involvement in marriage is historically a new phenomenon. Many cultures around the world have had marriage rites for same-sex couples. This was long before organized religions organized marriage ceremonies, and long before states altered the marriage landscape by making it a civil, not religious, process.
Through the past centuries, the “traditional” concepts of marriage have undergone significant change. Polygamy has been outlawed, married women are no longer considered the property of their husbands, and divorce is legal. Contraception is allowed within marriage, religions previously banned from married are now allowed, and laws forbidding interracial marriage have been eliminated.
Customs and the ceremonies of marriage have likewise changed. The institution of marriage as a legal, as well as a religious entity, is in constant flux. Same-sex couples having access to marriage in this latest century is the most recent evolution.
—— Civil Unions, etc. —
Civil Unions were created for the sole purpose of deflecting criticism while denying legal marriage to same-sex couples. Unions, and other domestic partnership registrations, are built from a patchwork of laws meant to simulate legal marriage, without offering the real deal.
It is impossible to replicate all the laws that are triggered by legal marriage with Unions, or other legal contracts such as wills, powers of attorney, and physician’s directives. Unlike legal marriage, all of these contracts can easily be contested.
Besides not fully covering the same legal areas, Civil Unions, or domestic partnership registrations, are not recognized as binding outside of the issuing state. The Federal government, for instance, will not recognize a Union for purposes of taxes or Social Security benefits.
Unlike legal marriage, a Union or registration status is vulnerable to the whims of a state’s attorneys general, town councils, and referenda. Domestic partnership laws providing modest medical coverage were dumped by the state attorney in Hawaii in 1997. Benefits provided to government workers were also rescinded, in:
Civil Unions create a second-class status which is legally unsound and socially restrictive.
Arlington County, VA
Austin and Houston, TX
Brookline, Boston and Cambridge, Northampton (Hampshire County), Springfield, MA
Colorado Springs, CO
Eastchester (Westchester County) and New York City, NY
Hennepin County and Minneapolis, MN
Sedgwick County, KS
[For articles on workplace benefits, see our: Domestic Partnership Benefits]
[Also, please see our: Comparing: Legal Marriage / Ceremonial Marriage / Domestic Partner Benefits]
—— Pending Equality —
The Washington Supreme Court has been considering the legal marriage cases of Anderson v. Sims and Castle v. State of Washington. This follows two lower court findings that the state failed to justify banning same-sex couples from legal marriage. A decision is now pending.
[For an article on marriage suits, please see our: Legal Marriage Court Cases: A Timeline]
There has never been any good reason to withhold the freedom to marry from Americans based on their sex or sexual orientation, any more than there was to withhold it based on race or religion.
If the court rules for full equality, Washington will be the second state, after Massachusetts, to offer legal marriage in America. It will be followed by South Africa, which their court has mandated for 2007.
Marriage laws need to be updated and conform to the real needs of same-sex couples. Many churches and spiritual leaders support this because they understand the importance of legal access and social equality.
—— Equality Payoff —
Besides all the benefits to the couples and to society that were mentioned, there are a few more. Perhaps allowing legal marriage will signal the end of sit-coms about single gay men who never kiss and their straight girlfriends. Or it could put an end to the mountain of movie scripts that show a gay man’s death before the last reel. Perhaps there will be an interest in knowing more about the life of married gay and lesbian couples.
The best payoff to America, however, will be the change in attitude toward gay men and lesbians; a change that indicates that Americans take seriously the notion of equal opportunity. This change would suggest a grownup America that would offer the ability for same-sex couples to protect their partners.