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Marriage is an important institution. It is through marriage that adults throughout our country and throughout the world express their commitment and devotion to each other. In turn, governments use the institution of marriage to recognize and protect family units.
However, the definition of marriage has not been static throughout history. The definition of marriage has changed considerably from biblical historical days, when the marital unit might have included more than 2 adults and when every participant's consent may not have been readily apparent. In past traditions, marriage was sometimes used to consolidate wealth, produce children, and create kinship between powerful families. The legal and social benefits of marriage continued to evolve to accommodate changing needs of societies.
Marriage continues to serve as an important civil institution in America today. Its protections continue on many levels: financial, legal, social, and emotional. Even while the institution of marriage evolves, it is still the avenue through which our society provides benefits, rights, protections, and responsibilities to partners.
Marriage bestows a host of benefits -and responsibilities - to couples who choose to marry. The following is a short, illustrative list of some of the more than 1,000 benefits and responsibilities that married couples enjoy automatically, yet are denied to same-sex couples that cannot wed.
- Automatic inheritance, even without a will
- Responsibility for each partner's debt
- Ability to put partner and partner's children on medical or life insurance
- Hospital visitation rights
- Ability to make partner a U.S. citizen and prevent deportation
- Right to take leave to care for a sick partner
- Ability to make medical decisions in an emergency
- Privilege from testifying against partner in court
- Ability to file joint tax returns and use tax benefits for married couples
- Exemption from gift and estate transfer taxes
- Right to joint parenting, adoption, foster care, and visitation of children
- Right to recognition in all states
- Right to file wrongful death claims for a partner's death
- Right to a divorce, court division of property, and visitation of children in times of breakup
SITUATION ON THE FEDERAL LEVEL
The federal government does not recognize marriages between persons of the same sex.
Although marriages are generally licensed by states, the rights and responsibilities of marriage are bestowed by state and federal governments. However, even if a state recognizes marriage rights for same-sex couples, under the current law, the federal government is not obligated to recognize the union for federal benefits.
The so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, states that only heterosexual marriages will be recognized by the federal government. Thus, even in states where gay couples can wed, the spouses cannot utilize federal tax benefits, Social Security survivor benefits, or Family Medical Leave protections.
In the Fall of 2009, Respect for Marriage Act (HR 3567) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. If passed, the bill would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and would allow the federal government to recognize validly-performed same-sex unions and would remove many of the unjust, discriminatory burdens currently placed on same-sex headed families.
Of the 19 members of Illinois delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, the following members have already co-sponsored the Respect for Marriage Act:
-Rep. Luis Gutierrez -Rep. Mike Quigley -Rep. Jan Schakowsky
A letter on DOMA from Bernard Cherkasov, Equality Illinois CEO, can be viewed here.
SITUATION ON THE STATE LEVEL
Much like the federal government, the state of Illinois does not recognize marriages between persons of the same sex. Illinois does allow same-sex civil unions, which are supposed to provide the same state-level recognitions as marriage; an Equality Illinois study, however, has found that the separate status of civil unions is not equal to marriage.
The Illinois General Assembly changed its statutes in 1996 with a bill that defines marriage in Illinois as a union between a man and a woman. This bill can be undone by a simple majority vote in the Illinois General Assembly. Illinois does NOT have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage or the recognition of same-sex marriage.
Generally, the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution provides that a marriage which is valid in a couple’s home state is valid everywhere. However, if a same-sex couple is married in their home state, DOMA allows other states to refuse to recognize that marriage. Many legal scholars argue that DOMA is unconstitutional and that traditional state-to-state recognition rules should apply.
Equality Illinois is working hard to end marriage discrimination against same sex couples in Illinois. A bill pending before the Illinois state legislature would address discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples.
We are educating the community and our policy-makers about the importance of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Help Equality Illinois bring about marriage equality by sending a letter to your Illinois Senators and Representative to express your support, calling them OR writing a letter to your local newspaper.
Where to get more information:
- Evan Wolfson, "Why Marriage Matters" (2005)
- Jonathan Rauch, "Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America" (2004)
- Prop. 8 Fed Challenge: Plaintiffs Trial Brief
The Business Case for Marriage Equality: Learn the importance, as a business, of supporting marriage equality!