Thursday, February 23, 2006

Marriage Amendment

I'm late on the "marriage amendment" issue. BenP at Young Philly Politics weighed in, as has ACM at A Smoke-Filled Room. Ben had sent me the link to an article in the Beaver County Times, and I've hung on to it. I just wanted to think through what I was going to post.

For some time my stance on domestic partnerships has been that I don't like them. Now, hold off on the pitchforks and torches. Let me explain. I think any two people who want to get should married should be able to, regardless of gender, provided both are of legal age and have the capacity to consent. For the twenty-some years that I have been married to Mr. J, the marriages of our gay and lesbian friends and acquantainces have never struck me as a threat to my own.

Two people can love each other for 50 years, have children, live together, take care of each other in sickness and health, until one of them dies, but unless they sign that piece of paper they are not married. You can haul two perfect strangers into the courthouse, have them sign, and they are. We may think love and marriage go together, and they should, but are two different things. Marriage is a legal matter. Cut and dried, stripped to its essence, it is a cold legal document. One minute you are responsible only for yourself, the next you get to decide whether or not to pull the plug on someone and are liable for their debts. You may be eligible for your spouse's health benefits. You are the presumed heir of their property (and their bills). You can collect your spouse's social security benefits. We can put all kinds of religious and romantic draperies on it, but that is what marriage actually is. And it should be available to people who wish to marry someone of the same gender, equally with those of differing genders.

The "One Family's Money" column in March's Money magazine was on two women who live together as a married couple, sharing most of the traits of most married couples. Take note of this paragraph

"Because however committed they may be as a couple, Mercer and Smoot-Mercer by law have no more rights or responsibilities to each other's health and financial well-being than passers-by in the street. They can't transfer property to each other, as married people can, without paying gift tax on amounts over $12,000 (in 2006). One can't collect the other's Social Security benefits. And unless they have drafted ironclad legal documents, if one of them becomes ill, the other will not be allowed to make medical and financial decisions on her behalf." (p. 118).

The article goes over the kind of paperwork people who aren't or can't get married need to pull together to cover all their bases. If you don't have money or access to the right professionals, I think you are out of luck.

If there are people who cannot legally marry but want the protections of marriage then domestic partnerships are necessary. What I dislike about domestic partnerships is their use by people who can legally marry and would not suffer unduly from doing so (loss of pension, for instance), but simply chose not to. That's just a personal opinion.

However, reading through the problems getting rid of domestic partnerships can cause I've changed my mind. I still think those who want to marry, regardless of gender, should be able to, but am willing to concede that those who can but choose not to marry, need a legal category.

Here was the kicker for me:

Beaver County Times: Ohio marriage law created legal quagmire

[In Ohio,] Magistrates in some cases are also refusing protection from abuse requests for assault victims "living as a spouse" because it conflicts with the marriage act.

And the text of the proposed PA "marriage amendment" is equally sweeping (H.B. 2381 / S.B. 1084): "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this Commonwealth, and neither the Commonwealth nor any of its political subdivisions shall create or recognize a legal status identical or substantially equivalent to that of marriage for unmarried individuals."

I've known women who have taken out protection orders. They don't need any more problems.

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