Although I am excited about the California Supreme Court’s decision
to override a ban on same-sex marriage, I continue to be leery
about the preferential treatment bestowed upon people simply because they “tie the knot.” According to a compilation of the General Accounting Office, in the U.S. married couples get at least 1,138 rights and benefits
that non-married people do not get (an updated version is available as a PDF
). While some of these rights clearly intend to protect children (although my own experience with the divorce law make me sometimes doubt that and there is also other evidence
of that failure), many of those rights are simply discriminatory. As a single person, my social security benefits are not paid beyond my death. If I were married, my surviving spouse gets those benefits. I could add a spouse to my health insurance but not a very close friend who has lost hers with her job (or never got any health insurance). Although it certainly simplifies things, it does not make sense to me why these rights are not easily available outside of marriage. Easily is the key here because at least some of these rights could probably recreated through complex contracts. So, why not create a simple legal vehicle that would be available to people in any relationship, be it as a couple or siblings or friends? Something like a union contract that two (or more) people could sign that conveys similar rights and benefits no matter who those people are would be much less discriminatory. A marriage could simply be the expression of a commitment between two people – no special rights and benefits are attached to it, except through the union contract that every married couple had to sign. This would uphold the rights and benefits for married people but would end the matrimonial discrimination of other relationships. It is time that we come up with alternatives to marriage
rather than perpetuating a discriminating vehicle.
There is an excellent editorial on courant.com, which brings up several good points along the lines I have argued here. Froma Harrop argues that “there is a marriage debate we ought to have — or to put it more accurately, a non-marriage debate.” She continues:
The troubling aspect of the push for gay marriage is the part that perpetuates the notion of marriage as a goody bag for sundry government and corporate benefits. A gay advocate asks, “Why can’t I leave my $4 million estate to my partner tax-free, as Jane and Joe Jones next door can do?” Valid question — but then one asks: “What about Widow Smith and her sister, who have lived together for decades? Shouldn’t tax law favor their estates, as well?” […] Given the growing percentage of unmarried adult Americans, the whole obsession with same-sex marriage has become rather dated.
Keep marriage as a romantic and religious ideal for those who choose to partake. Public policy, on the other hand, should be marriage-neutral.
This is the marriage issue that the leading candidates should be addressing. You just know that they won’t touch it.