The Benefits of Gay Marriage

Gay Marriage Is Now Recognized in All 50 States

African-American Gay Couple Hugging and Laughing
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Gay marriage has been legally recognized in America since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 that the Constitution guarantees same-sex partners the right to wed. Justice Kennedy stated in the decision that marriage is "a keystone of our social order," and the 5-4 Supreme Court vote effectively prohibited individual states from banning same-sex marriages.

The decision opened wide the door for homosexual married couples to claim the same numerous benefits awarded to heterosexual couples. Prior to this U.S. Supreme Court decision, only 19 states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriages. An earlier 2013 Supreme Court decision declared parts of the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional and paved the way for married same-sex couples in these states to claim the same protections and benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. But this 2013 decision did not require states that did not recognize same-sex marriage to begin doing so. 

Legal Rights Accorded to Married Couples 

According to a report given to the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. General Accounting Office, here are a few of the benefits provided by the federal government to legally married couples:

  • Access to shopping in military stores based on a spouse's military status
  • Assumption of a spouse’s pension
  • Bereavement leave
  • Immigration rights
  • Sharing insurance coverage 
  • Making medical decisions on behalf of a spouse 
  • Sick leave to care for spouse 
  • Social Security survivor benefits
  • Tax breaks, such as the ability to file joint married returns 
  • Veteran’s discounts
  • Visitation with spouse in a hospital or prison

State-Level Benefits

Many state-level benefits mirror those that are available at the federal level, but some states offer additional rights. 

  • Assumption of a spouse’s pension
  • Automatic inheritance rights -- It is illegal and statutorily impossible to disown your spouse in every state but Georgia 
  • Automatic housing lease transfer
  • Bereavement leave
  • Burial determination
  • Child custody
  • Crime victim’s recovery benefits
  • Divorce protections
  • Domestic violence protection
  • Exemption from property taxes on transfers after a spouse's death 
  • Immunity from testifying against your spouse
  • Insurance breaks
  • Joint adoption and foster care
  • Joint bankruptcy
  • Joint parenting with regard to insurance coverage and school records 
  • Making medical decisions on behalf of your spouse 
  • Certain property rights
  • Reduced rate memberships
  • Sick leave to care for your spouse 
  • Visitation with your spouse's children in the event of divorce, although this may ultimately be decided on a case-by-case basis
  • Visitation with your spouse in a hospital or prison 
  • Wrongful death and loss of consortium claims and benefits. 

Marriage vs. Civil Unions or Domestic Partnerships 

Many of the states that did not recognize same-sex marriages before the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision nonetheless permitted registered domestic partnerships and civil unions between same-sex couples. It's important to note that these arrangements are not the same as marriage. They often convey limited, similar rights as marriage, but you might find that you don't enjoy the full scope of benefits afforded by the 2015 decision unless you and your partner take steps to legally marry.  

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