Marriage: Still A Pretty Awesome Idea!


7. Benefits

Social Security provides support for a large faction of elderly Americans and their spouses. When a worker files for retirement benefits with Social Security, if that worker is married, his or her spouse may be eligible for a benefit based on the worker's earnings. This is not the case for unmarried partners.

8. Immigration

If you are involved with a foreigner, it is possible to offer them legal passage to the United States under a K-1 visa, otherwise known as a fiancé or fiancée visa. Obtaining this type of visa is much easier than any other visa available (according to the Department of State, in 2009, out of 29,127 K-1 visa applications, only 1,449 were refused). A K-1 visa is good for 120 days – if a foreigner marries their petitioner within 90 days, however, that foreigner becomes eligible for an adjustment of status to legal resident, enabling them to legally work in the country and, in two years, to initiate the process to become naturalized.

9. In the event of death

Brace yourself, this one sucks: When you are married, inheritance is automatic, whereas an unmarried partner would have to face the complexities of probate court in the case of a will. Because that's totally something you want to deal with when you're grieving the passing of your partner. Another issue is that the assets received by a survivor are only exempt from taxes if that partner is a spouse. This came up in the DOMA case, if you remember: Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a same-sex couple, had been married in Canada and were recognized by New York, where they lived, as spouses. Unfortunately, because at the time of Spyer's death in 2009 the state did not recognize same-sex marriage, Windsor could not claim tax exemption for surviving spouses, resulting in her having to pay $363,053 in estate taxes. This is something that a surviving unmarried partner would have to face. Something else that comes up (isn't that bad enough on top of the grief of losing someone you love? Apparently not) is the inability of a surviving unmarried partner to transfer retirement savings plans as is possible for spouses. Instead, the benefits from the plan must be distributed in full (and claimed by a surviving partner as taxable income, of course), or stay in the program to be distributed in keeping with the minimum distribution requirements. What's more, in the event of death, an unmarried partner is not entitled to bereavement leave from work -- and can't file wrongful death claims.

10. Ending things

There are, of course, considerations for what people do in the event that things don't work out. An unmarried couple doesn't have a system in place to assist them in disentangling their lives: determining assistance in the form of alimony, child support or distribution of assets. When you think about it, marriage isn't just a "piece of paper" or a party that people are willing to cross the globe for. Marriage isn't something quaint or passé to scoff at, but a solid, very useful legal instrument on which to base a life together. That's something I can get behind – especially now that these same protections are available to everyone at the federal level. Does anyone else find it kind of funny that the people who helped me understand and respect the power marriage are the same people that a certain faction in this country sought to oppress in the name of "protecting" matrimony? Yeah. Me, too.


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