By Evan Wolfson
On the historic, horrific morning of September 11, 2001, John kissed his wife, Rosa, goodbye before heading to his job as an office-cleaner in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Rosa never heard from her husband again. After searching frantically for days, Rosa accepted the reality of his disappearance. She filed for a death certificate and arranged her husband’s memorial service. Rosa received Workers’ Compensation from the state and a small Social Security death benefit from the federal government. She contacted John's former employer, who arranged for receipt of his pension. Because John and Rosa had few assets, they had never seen the need for a will, nor did theyhave the financial means to hire a lawyer to prepare one. Nonetheless, John's assets, which included a small savings account, their home and a car, were given to Rosa by law. Photo Time
That same morning, Juan kissed Ryan, his partner of 21 years, goodbye and headed to his job as a file-clerk in that same North Tower. Like Rosa, Ryan never heard from Juan again. Ryan applied for Workers’ Compensation and Social Security, but, unlike Rosa, he was told he was not eligible for those benefits because he was not Juan’s legal spouse. Even though Juan and Ryan had taken some precautions to protect their commitment -- such as registering as domestic partners, designating one another as beneficiaries on insurance policies, and executing health care proxies and powers of attorney -- and even though Juan paid the same taxes as John, Ryan was not automatically entitled to any of the compensations given to Rosa. In addition to his emotional devastation, Ryan was financially devastated as well.1
Why did Rosa have an economic safety net, while Ryan did not ? The answer can be summed up in two words: “I do.”
By getting married, John and Rosa gained access to critical legal protections and benefits for couples and their children that provided for them in their time of need. Married couples are entitled to literally hundreds of rights and protections that permeate their financial relationship, both in extraordinary circumstances such as the one mentioned above, or in everyday matters, like simply renting a car.
A 1996 government study found that there are at least 1,049 such protections, rights, and responsibilities that come with marriage under federal law alone. These protections include access to health care and medical decision making for a partner and children, parenting and immigration rights, inheritance, taxation, Social Security and other government benefits, rules for ending a relationship while protecting both parties and the ability to pool resources to buy or transfer property without adverse tax consequences.
Juan and Ryan, however, like all same-sex couples, were denied the freedom to legally marry and were eligible only for the limited protections they could arrange privately.
Throughout the United States -- regardless of how long they have been in a committed relationship, no matter how much they and their loved ones, often including children, need the protections that come with marriage -- same-sex couples are denied the safety net that is automatically in place for couples like Rosa and John. Read complete article – by Evan Wolfson - Drum Major Institute For Public Policy (June 2003)