Now when he asked me to marry him in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on vacation last summer I'm sure he wasn't thinking of those practicalities, neither was I. I just knew that I loved this man and I wanted to spend the rest of my life enhancing his happiness and being his wife. But as time goes on, I find that there are tons of practical reasons for us to marry. I know marriage isn't for everyone, it just isn't I'm not trying to argue that point. I'm trying to say for all of those folks who feel that co-habitating is the same as marriage. Well, I'm here to tell you that's not true, not even close to true. This summer quarter I'm teaching a family law class and as part of my class I've learned quite a lot about marriage and some of it's wonderful practical benefits. I'm not talking about emotionally or mentally, I'm talking legally. My practical mind and body wants to be protected and marriages affords the men, women and children of those unions lots of protections. In fact according to the General Accounting Office of the United States marriage has over 1,000 duties, rights, and protections. That is a lot. Living together doesn't get you half of those even with a cohabitation agreement (yes they do exist) you can't get all the things you can get with marriage automatically. Really I think in practical terms having those 1,000 protections for the $64 you pay for a marriage license in my town is much easier than hiring a lawyer for $250 an hour to haggle out a contract with someone you're living with and you still don't get as much. Many people point to common law marriage and that's true, common law marriage still exists and unlike what many people believe those jurisdictions that recognize it have no time limit regarding when it begins. But the number of jurisdictions that recognize common law marriage is only 9 and the federal government may not recognize it in some cases. So any benefits that a married person gets under federal law, people in common law marriages may not receive. It's called federalism. When I extol the practical virtues of marriage it's not because I want people who I feel are living in sin to not live in sin. Not at all, it's because I want people to know, especially women who are bearing a lot of brunt of living with and playing wife to a man who can get up and get out of Dodge any time he sees fit and leave her with kids and debt, they need to think of their protection. I have a scenario from my text book Family Law for the Paralegal: Concepts and Applications by Mary E. Wilson which kind of sums what I mean that in practical terms marriage is deeper than just emotion and the supposed 'piece of paper' people seem to want to rail against all the time.
Imagine having lived with a man for five years in a committed, monogamous relationship that you both intend to 'last forever'. Imagine going to pick him up at an airport and being greeted by airline personnel who advise you that he experienced a heart attack midair and is being rushed to a hospital emergency room. You race to the hospital and the first question you are asked is 'Are you a family member?' And that is only the beginning of a series of painful events with devastating consequences. You cannot be admitted to see him in intensive care (even worse his family hates your guts and won't allow you to see him). You cannot be advised of his condition due to federal privacy regulations, and you cannot consent to his medical treatment, although you know his wishes. You cannot write checks on his bank account to pay his obligations. If he dies, you have no say in the funeral and burial arrangements, and yet only you know what he would want. You cannot enter the home where you lived together, because when it was purchased by the two of you, if was put in his name only. You cannot access his safety deposit box, even though you have valuable personal property in it. You cannot inherit through him if he dies without a will, because you have no legally recognized interest in his estate. The two of you are, in effect, legal strangers. (Wilson, pp. 118-19)
When I read that scenario I thought about my own impending marriage and in practical terms how it protects both Matt and I. Why do people think gay people want the right to marry so bad, they want the benefits that go along with it. That scenario above is scary but it's true in the case of cohabitation and I don't want people to fool themselves into thinking it's the same as marriage, IT IS NOT. I'm not pushing marriage for anyone who doesn't want to do it, I'm just putting the facts out there so you know what you're getting yourself into possibly. Now in most of those above cases you could have done something legally that may have protected you as one of the cohabitation entities. But with my little piece of paper in the above case, it looks like this.
- As the wife when I show up to the hospital I am immediately told of my husband's conditions.
- I make all the decisions regarding his care with no interference from his family if I choose.
- I have access to his bank account and safe deposit box as per the law.
- I have full and final say in his burial arrangements.
- In my state it's community property so I automatically get to stay in our home and it's transferred into my name automatically, no spouse can buy property in this state alone unless the other spouse signs a waiver.
- Even without a will Probate Code gives me the right be first in line for any of his estate and essentially I get everything.
Now you could go to the lawyer and have medical directives made, agreements done, and wills made out (which most people don't do anyway) and pay him a couple of thousand bucks to do it. But you still won't be as protected as me automatically as a legal spouse for only $64 bucks. In practical terms, that makes sense to me. We can argue all we want whether this is fair or not, that's not the point, this is what it is right now. I'll take this deal any day and because I love him so much I'm more than glad to take it. Although I don't ever think of divorcing him I have divorced someone and even then I was more protected more than just the 'see ya, wouldn't want to be ya!' scenario of some couples living together. It's something to contemplate.