Prior to 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state in the county to allow same-sex marriage, gays and lesbians didn’t have the luxury of considering traditional marriage for themselves. With states increasingly passing marriage equality, couples can now consider if it makes sense for them.
The concept of marriage or matrimony predates recorded history: Long before the state and religion co-opted it, it was a verbal agreement between two people. It could be entered into with a simple “I marry you.”
Today, marriage is both an intensely personal and a societal construct. When two people marry, it publicly states — for family, friends, society and government — that they are now family. And while a couple can define what marriage may mean for them personally, the state (and, for some, the church) still outlines rights and responsibilities. For example, once you marry, you can make medical decisions, transfer property tax-free and have legal status with children — no separate paperwork required.
Although the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages — and the numerous associated federal benefits — states are free to make their own laws governing marriage.
At its foundation, marriage is about a relationship between two people. Every couple who enters it does so with their own preconceived notions of marriage, based on their parents’ marriages, how they see marriage in society and how they interpret the institution itself. For some, marriage is a romantic concept — that they found someone to love and who loves them. For others, marriage is a partnership or contract — someone with whom to build a life. For yet others, it’s all of that. Marriage can be a lifelong commitment or a temporary arrangement.
As such, marriage vows tend to be highly personal, ranging from “in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part” to “May this ring be a symbol of my growing love.” Vows set the tone of a marriage and can be romantic, practical or both. Many couples choose to write their own vows, carefully selecting language that represents what the relationship means to them and what they expect in the future.
With marriage having different meanings to different people, it’s important to talk to your partner about expectations if/when you are considering getting married. Beyond the wedding, be it lavish or simple, traditional or creative, there are the more mundane aspects of maintaining a relationship to consider. Here, communication is key. You’ll need to discuss chores, finances, goals, wants and needs — and negotiate disagreements.
Beyond your partnership, marriage holds greater significance in society, whether or not one agrees with the institution itself. Unlike civil unions or domestic partnerships, “marriage” is a universally respected and accepted concept. Everyone knows what marriage is: It doesn’t need a definition or an explanation. If you say, “This is my spouse,” you generally don’t need to produce paperwork to justify or clarify what that means.
Also, marriage conveys the same rights and responsibilities to a couple, whereas a civil union or domestic partnership may not. For gays and lesbians, this means that you can establish legal protections in one step (marriage) as opposed to many (insert list of power of attorney, will, etc., here).
A final word of caution: When considering tying the knot, remember that it’s cheaper and easier to get married than it is to get a divorce. And states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage aren’t likely to grant a divorce.
Society, at least in the United States, strongly favors marriage. It might be slow in coming for same-sex couples, but it is coming.
Sarah Blazucki is divorced. Go figure.