Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
Demian, director   ||   206-935-1206   ||   demian@buddybuddy.com   ||   Seattle, WA

Table of Contents

Notable Events Legal Marriage Essays Legal Marriage Data Ceremonial Marriage Domestic Partnership
Legal Necessities Relationship Tips Immigration Couples Chronicles Parenting
Inspiration Orientation Basics Surveys Resource Lists Citation Information
Welcome (About) Your Host Copyright Policy Link Policies Search Site

Marriage: Legal versus Ceremonial
© 2002, Demian


The word “marriage” packs a lot of meaning. Because it contains two widely divergent definitions, it has also been widely misunderstood. This is due to that fact that marriage is both a legal as well as a ceremonial event.

Ceremonial marriages, sometimes called “weddings,” are performed by churches, temples, and within other social events. They can be tailored to reflect religious and philosophical views.

Legal marriage — only obtained through a license in the United States — is entirely the responsibility of each state. This legal status has very specific rules and procedures affecting between 120-300 rights and responsibilities, depending upon one’s resident state.

On the federal level, more than 1,138 rights and responsibilities are triggered. [Please see U.S. Federal Laws for the Legally Married.

[The federal law disingenuously called DoMA tramples on the rights of states to decide the criteria of legal marriage. No other federal law has ever defined who can get a marriage license. Nor has it ever regulated who’s marriage license it will honor or disallow.]

Opposite-sex couples may combine both the legal and ceremonial events, but they are entirely distinct under our nation’s constitutional separation of church and state.

In order to simulate only a small fraction of these rights, a same-sex couple would need to spend as much as $3,000 for legal and related fees. And these documents need to be renewed about every four years. Wills, powers of attorney and relationship agreements give same-sex couples some say in the conduct of their personal affairs in the event of major life changes.

Because same-sex couples are considered strangers in the eyes of the law — no matter how long one is in a committed relationship — same-sex couples must go to extraordinary lengths to protect their families. [Please see our Legal Precautions to Protect Your Relationship.]

And these documents can all be challenged by blood relatives. In many jurisdictions, the relatives would have the weight of the law — and the prejudice of judges — on their side. Also, while the documents are as much as couples are allowed to legally create, they still cannot cover, for instance, the rights to:

  • recover damages based on injury to a partner,
  • have joint custody over the children of one partner,
  • receive survivor’s benefits,
  • have a foreign partner become a U.S. citizen,
  • live in housing for married persons or neighborhoods zoned “family only,”
  • collect unemployment benefits after leaving a job to relocate because of a partner’s job move, or
  • refuse to testify against one’s partner in court.
[Please see our extensive Marriage Benefits List.]

Because same-sex couples love each other, they naturally want to be able to care for each other. This could all be accomplished with but a single legal document — usually available for about $35 — that could settled definitively the right of same-sex couples to protect their families.



Return to: Partners: Table of Contents