With all the news items about Utah, New Mexico, and the UMC’s removal of clergy credentials from a pastor who officiated a same-gender wedding led me to bring this post out of draft form and into the light.
This past summer at my local church, I led a series on “What is Marriage?” as a Sunday Morning class. We talked about both the biblical and legal definitions of marriage to give greater context to not only to the DOMA and Proposition 8 cases that were before the Supreme Court at the time, but also to the anticipated 2014 Ballot question here in Oregon to rescind the state constitutional restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples.
For the first session, we had a lawyer who is an expert in family law come and talk to our Sunday School class about “what is marriage?”
Our full conversation table heard the following three parts of the conversation (there were four parts, but I’ve removed the prenuptial/postnuptial conversation as it isn’t relevant to this blog post). These are the legal meanings, benefits, and liabilities of being married under the law.
THE LEGAL MEANING OF MARRIAGE
I. Being Together: There are Four Choices
- Live together with no written agreement (which could become a Common Law Partnership)
- Live together, but have a written agreement
- Marry (opposite sex), or register as domestic partners (same sex)
- Marry/Register and have a written agreement (Prenuptial)
II. Basic Effects of #3 & #4 Marriage: The Standard Package of Benefits and Liabilities
- During the marriage: healthcare issues, forms of property ownership, transfers between spouses, liability for medical debts, joint tax ﬁlings, testimonial privilege, immigration issues, pension beneﬁts, etc.
- Upon divorce: rights to spousal support, social security beneﬁts (if marriage lasts more than l0 years), division of property even if not commonly held, rules regarding support and property division (some clarity).
- Upon death: right to sue for wrongful death, preference to be appointed PR, right to live in residence for l year, right to support for 2 years, right to elect against will, right to intestate share, right to half of community property, workers’ comp and social security beneﬁts, estate tax beneﬁts such as unlimited transfers between spouses, and portability.
III. Supreme Court Issues
- Hollingsworth (Prop 8): Can California ban same sex marriage? No.
- Windsor (DOMA): Can the federal government be barred from recognizing same sex marriage sanctioned by states? No.
- What happens next? Gay marriage will be authorized on a state by state basis. As a result, federal beneﬁts will apply to gay couples in a patchwork fashion, depending on a couple’s state of residence, the type of beneﬁt involved, and the state they are traveling in/move to.
The super-helpful part for my congregation was the laundry list of rights that you have for being married or registered as domestic partners. To deny all those rights from a couple for whatever reason seemed to be a justice issue for them.
The final line from the lawyer was this:
It is tremendously disadvantageous to not be able to get married in America.
Thus, our class talked intensely about what it means to have the church be standing in the way of a better quality of life for people who otherwise would be granted the same rights heterosexuals enjoy. Regardless of theological or polity reasons against marriage, how can we say we are on the side of creating a just society?
What do you think?
- Why does our country give so many benefits to married people?
- How is a situation where one documented and persistent group of people cannot get married and cannot gain all these rights a just situation?
Thanks for your comments!