The road to marriage equality has been a long one. Now that we have arrived, you may be asking yourself whether or not you should take the plunge. If you’re not asking yourself that question, I suggest you do! Too often, folks jump into marriage without giving it a second thought; it’s just what you are supposed to do, right? Not necessarily. A legal marriage comes with both benefits and consequences, and it may or may not be the right choice for your values and dreams as a couple. As you take the time to ponder legal marriage, here are a few considerations you may want address.
The potential perks of a same-sex marriage
Being recognized as real
Legal marriage tends to carry the weight of legitimacy; your relationship becomes “real” and gains social credibility if you are married. To a degree, these social benefits might be found from a marriage or commitment ceremony, without the legal ties. However, you might still need to contend with the questions (be it yours or someone else’s’) of whether it really counts, if it’s not legal. The answer that really matters, of course, is the answer in your and your partner’s hearts.
Increased quality and longevity
Research suggests that formalizing your relationship may benefit the quality (e.g. MacIntosh,Reissing, & Andruff, 2010) and longevity (e.g. Kurdek, 2000) of your relationship. However, it may be that socially honoring and recognizing your relationship is enough to benefit from improved relationship quality (Fingerhut & Maisel, 2010). What legal marriage most offers is a barrier to leaving, which research suggests is an important contributor to longevity (e.g. Kurdek, 2000). In any long-term relationship, there are bound to be times when one or both partners is frustrated, unfulfilled, and even questioning the relationship. Barriers such as a legal marriage make it harder for someone to leave the relationship. Of course, barriers can also include a social ceremony, children, a mortgage, or other ties that bind; legal marriage isn’t the only option.
Generally speaking, our government favors those who are legally married. Married couples get a myriad of legal benefits, privileges, and rights not afforded to unmarried couples. A legal marriage automatically gives both of you the same rights and responsibilities over your children. It considers both of you to be joint owners of any property you’ve acquired during the marriage. In the event that one of you should die, having a legal marriage would make dealing with many aspects of the arrangements far easier and more financially feasible. Married couples also get Social Security benefits, healthcare benefits, and others. Additionally, for those of you who’ve fallen in love with a non-US Citizen, a legal marriage would pave the way toward immigration and US citizenship.
The potential pitfalls of a same-sex marriage
Something isn’t working
Marriage, as an institution, has gone through a lot of changes. It’s evolved from a means of gaining property, power, and status, to a societal expectation, to, only recently, an act of love (Coontz, 2006). However, given that about half of all heterosexual couples ever married will be divorced by their mid-fifties, it seems safe to say that something about marriage isn’t currently working. Same-sex couples face all of the same challenges in their relationship as heterosexual couples do, plus additional ones unique to being a same-sex couple. Same-sex marriages might, therefore, follow a similar trend. At the very least, it seems important to consider your expectations for what marriage will mean, do, or be like for your life.
While no one enters into a marriage with the expectation that they will get divorced, the possibility warrants some thought. Many of the legal benefits of marriage, particularly regarding rights to your children, serve as protective factors in the case of a divorce, which is a benefit. The assumption of joint ownership of property, however, can be a drawback. In many states, legal marriage means that all of the assets, wealth, property, and debt belong to both of you equally, regardless of who earned it during the marriage or who’s “at fault” for the divorce. Additionally, divorces can be expensive and messy. They require legal forms, a court appearance, and often a need for legal counsel. Ending a relationship is hard enough; getting a divorce can be even more challenging.
Participating in privilege
Legal marriage is a system of privilege. In Western culture, the institution of marriage was originally created exclusively for heterosexual couples. Traditional marriage ceremonies invite participation in a capitalistic industry which, again, is largely based in heteronormativity. Marriage grants privileges which are denied to those who cannot or choose not to become legally married. Additionally, some faith communities or belief systems might not support same-sex couples participating in the privilege of marriage. These aspects of legal marriage may not be a good fit for some couples’ value and belief systems.
Talk to your partner!
There are many dreams tied up with spending a life together. Marriage may or may not be the way to making those dreams come true. Talk to your partner about what those dreams are. Talk about your reasons for wanting (or not wanting) to get married. Ask one another, “What would it mean to us to be legally married, and what would it mean if we chose not to?” Discuss your reactions to the perks and pitfalls. Premarital counseling can be a great way for exploring these questions and preparing your for what’s ahead.
Despite what you may have believed, you can have all of your dreams for love, family, and life-adventure (you can even have the wedding of your dreams) without getting legally married… if you want to. Of course, there is nothing wrong with getting married. What matters is that you have given it some thought, that you’ve discussed it together, that you know why you’re choosing it, and that you feel good,and confident, about the decision.