Gay Marriage, the Law, and YOU
How Do You Define “Marriage”?
As this article is written by an American for Americans I’m going to use the legal definitions only for the United States. I understand marriage law in other countries can vary wildly from place to place, however for simplicity sake I feel it’s best we stick with one set of common laws. Most states’ marriage laws boil down to “1 man and 1 woman, who are not blood-related”. Some states have other sections of the law in place, usually carried over from old traditions, that are generally ignored by the general public and only dragged out when someone wants to protest a marriage they find offensive.
There are also religious or cultural definitions of marriage, which do not always align with the law. In many Western cultures this usually involves “1 man, 1 woman, and 1 deity”, making some sort of strange supernatural love triangle. In some other cultures it is more like a stamp approval. Of course the deity does not make an appearance to approve the union, however there is usually a proxy in place to represent their almighty wishes.
What Steps are Involved in Getting Married?
Normally the couple wishing to be wed must purchase a marriage license from the courthouse to cover the legal part of marriage, then they’re able to have the ceremony wherever they like; some restrictions may apply. The church does not have any say in who may receive a marriage license, nor are they required to perform the ceremony to everyone who asks them. Legalizing gay marriage will not affect the religious definition of marriage at all.
So What’s the Problem?
The problem arises when these two definitions are intertwined in legal debate. Social liberals are more inclined to go by the legal definition, while social conservatives are likely to use the religious one.
Gay marriage opponents may argue that changing the law to allow homosexuals to marry will destroy the sanctity of marriage. This is debunked by referring back to the legal definition of marriage, which is a contract between two people. Atheists, Pantheists, and other non-believers may purchase a marriage license.
Other common arguments against gay marriage are that gay couples are bad parents, or that someone cannot truly become romantically involved with someone of the same gender. Once again we should revert back to the legal definition of marriage. Neither the intent of procreation, nor romantic affection between the two parties, is required to be legally joined in marriage.
So What Harm Does a Gay Marriage Ban Do?
Restricting the legal union of marriage to only people of opposite genders does have some real world consequences. The legal status of gay marriage has little to no bearing on the real-world actions of homosexual couples. They will still live together, share property, and maybe adopt some kids; everything that a legally married heterosexual family would do. However, in the eyes of the law the two people are complete strangers that just happen to live at the same address.
The problem with this arises when there is a disaster that strikes the family. Because the two people are not legally joined by default they do not have joint custody of children. If the legal parent of the child dies then custody of the child will not resort to the other partner. Often times the legal parent’s extended family will take custody of the child, along with full legal right to say who may see them, potentially cutting off visitation rights to the child’s other parent. This problem also carries into other matters of the estate. Property is generally not jointly-owned. Unless legal arrangements have been prepared beforehand upon death of the legal owner the house, car, and financial accounts do not revert to the other partner. This can be disastrous in situations where everything in the estate is not jointly-owned, and the other partner is essentially evicted from their own home.
There are measures that the non-recognized couples can do to protect their family and investments in case of emergency. The couple should prepare wills, and other legal documents granting power of attorney to the other partner. They should also file for joint custody of their child if needed. All of these documents should be reviewed and filed with a licensed attorney to give an unmarried couple some of the legal benefits of a married couple. Unfortunately this can cost thousands of dollars in legal fees to get only a fraction of the federal benefits offered to couples who spend less than a hundred dollars to purchase a marriage license. Also these complex documents are more likely to be contested in a court of law than a standard marriage license.
How Does That Affect the Rest of Us?
Legalizing gay marriage across all states, and at the federal level, will not affect anyone’s heterosexual marriage at all. You may think it’s “icky” for two guys to be in a relationship, however this is not an appropriate basis for legal proceedings. The traditional family unit is no longer the only option on the table, as we begin to see that the modern family takes many forms.