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Comparing
Legal Marriage / Ceremonial Marriage / Domestic Partner Benefits
by Demian
© July 7, 2011, Demian


In the United States, family units are addressed by the government according to their legal status, not according to commitment or duration of relationship. Legal marriage for same-sex couples is completely denied, which is why committed same-sex partners of 40 years can be treated as legal strangers.

An opposite-sex couple, that just signed a marriage license, can have a non U.S. partner apply for citizenship, automatically inherit, become a legal co-parent, have medical say if their partner is incapacitated, and so on.

Legal status is assigned through “legal marriage,” “ceremonial marriage” and various forms of “domestic partnership” laws.

Legal marriage is a relationship between three parties — the two individuals plus the state.

Ceremonial marriage, often called a “wedding,” is a relationship between the couple, their religion and/or their familial and social circle. This form of marriage — which is available to same-sex couples — has no legal standing.

Domestic Partnership is a relationship between the two individuals and the state. Offered only in a few states, this status has widely differing effects, and is not recognized outside of the state of issuance.

Many private and governmental employers offer benefit plans that are called “Domestic Partnership Benefit Plans.”

Further, some municipalities extend some small benefits to citizens at large, calling them “Domestic Partner Registration.”

Many opposite-sex couples engage in both legal and ceremonial marriage, but they are entirely distinct — legally and functionally — under our nation’s Constitutional separation of church and state.

Because same-sex couples are barred from legal marriage, to simulate only a small fraction of marriage rights, couples can spend as much as $3,000 in legal fees and related expenses for documents that need to be reviewed about every four years, or at any significant change of circumstance.

A marriage license usually costs about $35 and self-perpetuates.

Opposite-sex couples are usually presumed legally married when applying for benefits, often without ever needing to show their marriage license.

Same-sex couples applying for job benefits are often required to prove they live together, co-mingle finances, and intend to live together forever.

Married, opposite-sex couples are not required to live together, can maintain separate finances; they are not required to even like each other.

Benefits Triggered
  Legal Marriage Ceremonial Marriage Domestic Partner Benefits
Assumption of
Spouse’s Pension
Automatic No No
Bereavement Leave
in Workplace
Automatic No Only certain workplaces.
Must sign affidavit,
often more requirements
than marriage license.
Burial Determination Automatic No No
Certain Property Rights Automatic No No
Child Custody Automatic No No
Crime Victim’s
Recovery Benefits
Automatic No No
Divorce Protections Automatic No No
Domestic Violence
Intervention
Automatic No Only in some jurisdictions.
Extra Employment Perks:
spousal use of company gym; spousal use of company car or employee car lease program.
Automatic
when available
No Only certain workplaces.
Must sign affidavit,
often more requirements
than marriage license.
Exemption from
Property Tax
on Partner’s Death
Automatic
where available
No No
Housing Lease Transfer Automatic
where available
No Only New York City.
Immunity from Testifying
Against Spouse
Automatic No No
Inheritance Automatic No.
Will necessary
and is contestable.
Ceremony could
influence court decision.
No.
Will necessary
and is contestable.
Domestic partnership could
influence court decision.
Insurance Breaks Automatic No No
Insurance Coverage
in Workplace
Automatic No Only certain workplaces.
Must sign affidavit,
often more requirements
than marriage license.
Joint Adoption &
Foster Care
Probable No.
Often reviewed by court.
Some states prohibit
adoption and foster care.
No.
Often reviewed by court.
Some states prohibit
adoption and foster care.
Joint Bankruptcy Automatic No No
Joint Parenting
(Insurance Coverage,
School Records)
Automatic No No
Medical Decisions on
Behalf of Partner
Automatic No.
Physician’s directives
or powers of attorney
are necessary.
No.
Physician’s directives
or powers of attorney
are necessary, with
few exceptions.
Reduced Rate
Memberships
Automatic
where available
Only certain organizations. Only certain organizations.
Sick Leave to
Care for Partner
in Workplace
Automatic Only certain workplaces. Only certain workplaces.
Must sign affidavit,
often more requirements
than marriage license.
Visitation of
Partner’s Children
Probable, depending
on divorce decree.
No.
Often must go to court.
No.
Often must go to court.
Visitation of Partner
in Hospital
(intensive care)
Automatic Often prohibited.
Physician’s directives
or powers of attorney
must be drawn
Often prohibited.
Physician’s directives
or powers of attorney
must be drawn
Visitation of Partner
in Prison
Automatic No Only certain cities.
Wrongful Death Benefits
(Loss of Consort)
Automatic No No

Civil Servants and Military Employment Benefits
  Legal Marriage Ceremonial Marriage Domestic Partner Benefits
Access to Military Stores Automatic No No
Assumption of Spouse’s Pension Automatic No No
Bereavement Leave Automatic No No
Insurance Breaks Automatic No No
Medical Decisions on
Behalf of Partner at
Military or VA Hospitals
Automatic No No
Sick Leave to Care for Partner Automatic No No
Veteran’s Discounts Automatic No No
Visitation of Partner
in Hospital or Prison
Automatic No No

U.S. Government Laws Triggered by Legal Marriage

Although the marriage contract is governed by state law, the federal government uses marital status as the qualification for more than 1,138 federally regulated rights and responsibilities. [Please see our: U.S. Laws for Married]
  Legal Marriage Ceremonial Marriage Domestic Partner Benefits
Immigration Automatic No No
Social Security Survivor Benefits Automatic No No

State Laws Triggered by Legal Marriage

Marriage contracts are governed by state law. Every state makes their own set of laws that set the requirements for marriage as well as create the laws that are triggered by marital status.
Click on each state for further information. Number of Laws
Alaska 115+
California 300
Connecticut 588
Hawaii 160
New York 200+
Vermont 870+
Washington 200+




Further Resources


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