With equal marriage being decided on by the Supreme Court in less than a month, a lot of couples are asking themselves if they should make it legal should the verdict come back in our favor. While gay and lesbian couples have ben able to marry in select regions of the U.S. over the last 10 years, there are still several states that were steadfast in keeping them from being recognized where they actually live.
And then there are the couples who just don’t know if they should get married; if it’s too much like being granted the ability to do something they should have been able to do all along, or they see it as conforming to a straight majority. Several celebrities have expressed this sentiment, including Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, who were together 42 years before they decided to make it legal. Just three years before, Lily told us she “didn’t think” they’d get married: “I don’t even want to contemplate it. We might. Sometimes we talk about it but I don’t know. I don’t like to imitate heterosexuals.”
There are benefits to getting married, and you should know the score before you decide if you should pop the question or simply head to the courthouse after the big decision next month.
Tara Borelli, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, gave us some insight as to what legal protections and rights we will get if the Supreme Court votes for equality should you be part of a couple that is considering marriage.
“It didn’t take long for a number of lawmakers and people in the community to see [domestic partnerships and civil unions] really were a failed experiment in being the ending point or the stopping point for same sex couples,” Tara said. “It’s never going to be adequate to say to same-sex couples, ‘You can have this status but you can’t have what everybody else has.’ If we get a victory it will have a large impact in non-marriage equality states but it really will affect everybody in a larger sense because we won’t be fully protected until we are in every state, coast to coast.”
And although every couple differs in their wants and needs, there are several benefits that could be afforded to same-sex couples who decide to get married once its legal throughout the country. Here are just eight of them.
1. You will have the same rights and protections as married straight couples. As it stands now, same-sex couples are limited in their rights as they vary from state to state. “Part of the point of arguments plaintiffs have been making in court is they want to be part of the very same family protection system that everyone else relies on to protect their family,” Tara said. “Because this is about getting access to the same safety net that society provides to all other couples, we’re really talking about the same protections and responsibilities for same-sex couples.”
2. Domestic partnerships and other alternative statuses were created as placeholders. While it’s great that we’ve been given minor protections with domestic partnerships and civil unions, these secondary statuses also vary from state to state, and some states don’t have either available. Tara says they were created as “substitutions” and “temporary forms of protection while we worked toward providing same-sex couples the same system, which is marriage.” Although she also says she is hopeful that once marriage is won, most states will keep the secondary options as well. “There are multiple ways to protect one’s family and the autonomy to choose to any given couple is really the right way to respect the autonomy people should have in arranging their families,” Tara said.
3. It will help same-sex couples to be recognized as part of society. Even if marriage equality is legal, it doesn’t necessarily do away with homophobia. However there’s been a lot of progress in terms of LGBT acceptance, and the more queer people heterosexuals know and see as happy, well-adjusted humans, the more we will be seen as accepted. “I think that as long as there are some states where same sex coupls can’t get married or be recognized as married, that really hurts all of us,” Tara said. “When the government authorizes discrimination, it sends a really powerful message to everyone–to all kinds of private parties. That discrimnation against same-sex couples is perfectly okay. That’s a terrible way to structure society. We need to be a society where everyone is part of the fabric of society where all families are protected and allowed to thrive.”
4. Your relationship will be protected in every state.“[Right now] if you have somebody who is married in one state but happens to be traveling for work or other reason to a state that wouldn’t recognize their marriage, that creates vulnerability,” Tara said. “There really shouldn’t be an excuse for that. We really need a system where everyone is respected.”
5. Your children will be protected in every state. “Since a number of young couples are starting families, family protections, the ability to have a legal relationship to your child for both spouses, is incredibly important,” Tara said. Not only that but parents can help “their children understand that their family is equally valued.”
6. You will be better prepared for tragedies. It may feel like end-of-life planning is far off in your future, but Tara said it’s good to remember you are only “one accident away from tragedy.” “I think it’s particularly important for people who assume those events are far away from them,” Tara said. “The ability to be recognized, without question, as the person who gets to receive information about your loved one’s condition to make medical decisions if they’re incapacitated- everyone is vulnerable to unexpected tragedy.”
7. You will have a stronger safety net. Spousal health care is huge for most families, and Tara said it’s critical for couples with one spouse who doesn’t have access to insurance through their employment. “That’s a significant number of people who are working in the home raising children, if they’re doing part time work, or work that doesn’t generally come with benefits. There are lots of reasons spouses need coverage. Marriage can be the ticket to that and that’s pretty helpful in terms of financial liabilities,” Tar said. “You don’t have to try and obtain insurance on your own and you have that safety net if you need it.”
8. You get to have a legally-recognized wedding. For several couples, the tax breaks, the healthcare benefits and the family protections don’t matter as much as the actual ceremony. “Some people won’t be focused on the pragmatic right and responsibility,” Tara said. “It’s really the chance to declare their love to each other in a state-sanctioned ceremony in front of family and friends. Everybody remembers their wedding day.”