There is something missing from the gay marriage debate. It's not just about feeling validated, retirement or health care benefits. All those things are nice, but those of us afforded the benefits of marriage take one major thing for granted -- the right to a mediated dissolution if the relationship goes south.
I had a friend whose same sex marriage dissolved after 30 years. "Thank God I live in New York," she said, "Otherwise there is no way she would give me an equal distribution. But I'm getting half -- believe me. I quit my job for her!" Truly, you never know a person until you divorce them. Promises to love and take care of you forever often become a little less reliable.
When we fall in love, we think about how we will be together and how blissfully happy we are -- we don't normally think about how our partner will treat us if we break up. Fortunately for married people, years of divorce law have created an atmosphere that tries to protect all parties. For example, if your marital home is only in one person's name, it is still considered community property in most states. In my home state of Ohio, there are official standards for child support and alimony that make it pretty hard for one person to squelch on their responsibility. I am not saying everyone thinks their divorce was fair, but those of us who have been legally married have the right to legal intercession.
Imagine you are in a same-sex relationship and consider yourself married. Perhaps you had a church wedding or civil union. Let's say you have children, and you have used a family member from your side of the family to be the sperm/egg donor, and your partner contributed the other half of the milkshake. Your child will have DNA from both of you, as close to a mix of the two of you as possible. Imagine that your partner had better credit than you did, so you just decided to put the family home in their name. Eight or ten years later when that relationship dissolves, where does that leave you?
Or what if you did not carry the babies in your belly, but have been a stay at home parent to them? If you are gay in a state that doesn't recognize your relationship, you have no right to alimony, and even child support is questionable. Depending on the state you live in, visitation is not necessarily guaranteed.
Marriage is not just about tax benefits, social security, or health care rights. It's not just flowers and heart-shaped balloons. Marriage is also about having a legal means to end the relationship. It's about equitable division of property, equitable shared parenting, and a forum for conflict resolution.
Just about every divorced person I know feels like they got the shaft in one part of their resolution or another. Few people are completely happy with the agreement and the final settlement. I'm not saying the legal system is infallible, but it is better than nothing, and it has saved more than one person I know from intentional malice by their ex-true love. Unfortunately, if you are gay and in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, your rights are uncertain at a time when you are most vulnerable.