Marriage Is a Human Right

By FredrickHobbs

During 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 2,162,000 marriages recorded in the United States. More than 6,000 of our fellow Americans tied the knot every single day! And, in spite of the reported high rate of divorce–last recorded as about 44% of first marriages after seven years–the rate of re-marriage is an astonishing 93%. This is more than great news for wedding planners and caterers. Marriage seems to have taken hold in this culture as a status that accords us a level of respect, an assumption of accountability (whether true or not), and a regard by society that means we’re members in good standing of the community.

Marriage even affords us a number of benefits, rights and legal protections not found outside its esteemed position in our society. In fact the actual number of rights and benefits is knowable, and is rather high. Higher than most people realize, or they may be more solicitous of a marriage partner. Knowing this information would also likely make more people able to see the unfairness in denying those marriage rights to anyone otherwise eligible, which is one purpose of this article, and the derivation of its title. Marriage is not just a human right; it’s a portal into the benefits and protections the state bestows to its adult citizens. How many rights, protections and benefits?

Go back to your wedding day. It was likely a day of great joy, when you were surrounded by family and friends, all wishing you well, smiling, sharing with you the spirit of the occasion. You walked down an aisle of some kind with your intended to the music you’d picked, surrounded by the esteem of all around you. Then, you likely faced a judge, or a cleric, and made promises to each other and the community to be faithful, true, mindful of the celebrated state into which you were entering. And the instant you said “I do”, all the aforementioned rights, benefits and legal protections were yours, just for saying those two simple words.

How many rights? Not fifty. Not 100. No, there are in fact 1,138 separate, identified federal and state benefits, rights and legal protections that attach to two people who marry in this country. By extension, then, those are rights and benefits unavailable to those who for one reason or another are disqualified from entering into a marriage contract.

Here’s one example of what married people enjoy. It has to do with rights under Social Security. Keep in mind that all working Americans contribute to this program through payroll tax. Regardless of how society views us, and in spite of what other status we may have in society, whether part of the mainstream or an outcast, if we’re gainfully employed in this country, we’re required to pay into the Social Security trust fund.

Social Security provides the sole means of support for a number of Americans.  Here’s where the rights and benefits of marriage enter the picture. All surviving spouses of working Americans are eligible to receive Social Security payments.  Surviving spouses who care for a deceased employee’s minor child are also eligible for a support payment, in addition to the regular monthly stipend.  These are benefits that are denied to gay and lesbian Americans because they cannot marry.  Thus, those couples who contribute to Social Security over their lifetime receive drastically unequal benefits from what their married counterparts receive. If both partners pay into the system for many years, the amount of differential can be hundreds, or even thousands of dollars every year.

So the denial of marriage isn’t just a minor concern for those couples, and should not be for us. Americans have always been sensitive to unfairness in our society. Our history is littered with the remnants of long-discarded human rights denials that would seem ludicrous today. As recently as 1967–just 42 years ago–there were sixteen states in the U.S. that carried anti-miscegenation laws on their books prohibiting the marriage of blacks and whites. The case that addressed that travesty, appropriately titled Loving Vs Virginia, eliminated one such social stain. Today the concept of denying anyone marriage because of their race would be laughable. Still, we continue to deny civil marriage to gays and lesbians because of a similar condition of birth. It’s as if we denied people the right to drive because they were born left handed.

Returning to the Social Security example, we see that those denied civil marriage are faced with this inequity:
Family #1: Married husband and wife, both biological parents of the child, either member would be:
– Eligible for Surviving Child Benefits
– Eligible for Surviving Parent Benefits

Family #2: Same-sex couple, deceased worker was the biological parent or adoptive parent of the child (where permitted)
– Eligible for Surviving Child Benefits
– Not Eligible for Surviving Parent Benefits

Family #3: Same-sex couple, deceased worker was not the biological parent nor able to adopt the child through second-parent adoption, surviving member
– Not Eligible for Surviving Child Benefits
– Not Eligible for Surviving Parent Benefits

For those who know couples like those described above, this isn’t a remote, unlikely possibility, but reality. Denial of these benefits happens every day, in spite of the fact that these individuals are required, just as their co-workers are, to pay into Social Security. Presented with this information, in addition to the remainder of the 1,138 rights and benefits afforded married couples in this country, reasonable people will conclude that this is unfair, and yet another reason that civil marriage equality is a human right.

Byron H. Edgington is a writer and creator of the marriage resource website []. Caffection is where marriage and its manifold benefits are spoken. Visit Caffection for an assets planning guide, heartwarming movies, a daily journal, quotes, an e-newsletter and more, all free to download.