Can't We just Live Together?
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     In California, one definition of a legal marriage is "the creation of an economic unit between a man and a woman." That legal marriage unit is supported by over 1100 federal and state rights and responsibilities. That's a far cry from the usual religious views on what makes a marriage. Maybe marriages are made in heaven, but that alone will not make them legal. No religion can offer a legal license to marry, nor provide a couple the means to a legal divorce. In fact the Catholic religion is well known for not recognizing a marriage ceremony involving a Catholic if it is performed outside of their Church. Only the state can both issue a license for a legal marriage and certify that a couple is legally divorced.
     Just why the term "economic unit" is involved in the "holy state of matrimony" becomes crystal clear when you consider the monetary restrictions in the marriage over property rights, tax issues, and dissolution of the marriage by death or divorce Since almost half the adult population of the U.S. is unmarried, and a large percentage of the unmarried adults are same sex couples or life partners, it seems likely that the push for legalization of same-sex marriage is, to a large degree, influenced by the economic differences resulting from just living together with a partner, or by marrying them. Considering how so very different the financial arrangements in marriage are when compared to being unmarried, what couple wouldn't want to tie the knot to gain a large number of monetary advantages, if they are interested in a lifelong relationship? A current movie, "Cloudburst", starring Olympia Dukakis, touches on a similar topic, "What it means to have no legal connection to the person you love." Following are some illustrations of legal connections comparing those couples married and those just living together.
     When a married couple moves into a house owned by one of the partners, or decides to buy a house together, it doesn't matter who makes the down payment, pays the property tax, or makes the mortgage payments. It's immaterial. The tax and ownership situations are the same. Each of these factors, however, plus insurance liability, come into play when two unmarried partners move in together or agree to share in buying a house, as these issues affect the ownership and tax structure of the transaction. Also, married couples filing a joint tax return will normally pay less taxes than the unmarried couple since marriage is a requisite to filing joint tax returns.
     Health insurance benefits are not taxed for married couples, whereas they are for unmarried partners. Also, married couples get up to 12 weeks off for a sick spouse or sick child, and time off to have, or adopt, a child. Unmarried couples are not given such time except on a company volunteered basis.
     If a married person dies before retirement, the survivor can get Social Security and employer retirement benefits. These investments of unmarried employees are usually forfeited on the death of one partner.
     Married partners get tax and cash benefits on IRA's, whereas unmarried partners may receive no survivor benefits.
     Spouses can be added to each other's accounts with no tax applied. Unmarried couples get no such advantage if the partner added to the account ever withdraws any funds from the account.
     Adoption options are open to married couples. States vary on unmarried couples adopting, and an unmarried non-birth parent may not have any parental rights when the birth mother dies.
     Family law has a systematic method for dividing property in a divorce or other dissolution of marriage, but no system is in place for unmarried couples regarding retirement assets or jointly owned property.
     Is it any wonder, then, why all the uproar and confusion exists about two people of the same sex wanting their economic status changed from just living together to that of being married. And when you factor in the several religious connotations, the varying views of the different churches, and the many attitudes of the straight heterosexuals, the problems involved in same-sex marriage may be around for some time to come. It is not, as Billie Jean King suggests, "just about equal rights."
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