Marriage 101

Marriage 101: Frequently Asked Questions

Why do gay and lesbian couples want to get married?

Does this change the definition of marriage?

How would gay and lesbian couples marry?

Does civil marriage for gay couples affect churches or other religious institutions? What if my religion opposes same-sex relationships?

Aren't there other alternatives to marriage for gay and lesbian couples?

How does marriage strengthen families?

Where can gay and lesbian couples get married?

How will this affect children?

Isn't marriage really about procreation?

Won’t this cost a lot of money?

Why don't we use the terms "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage?"

Isn't this a bad time to fight for the freedom to marry?

How can I help?

For more in-depth information, including publications, news, and more, visit our resource section and search by keyword or category.

Why do gay and lesbian couples want to get married?

Marriage matters to gay people in similar ways that it matters to everyone.  Gay and lesbian couples want to get married to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and to protect their families.

Marriage says, “We are family” in a way that no other word does. Marriage is one of the few times where people make a public promise of love and responsibility for each other and ask our friends and family to hold us accountable.  

Gay and lesbian couples may seem different from straight couples, but we share similar values - like the importance of family and helping out our neighbors; worries - like making ends meet or the possibility of losing a job; and hopes and dreams - like finding that special someone to grow old with, and standing in front of friends and family to make a lifetime commitment. 

Does this change the definition of marriage?

No. Allowing committed gay and lesbian couples to get married does not change the meaning of marriage. It simply allows same-sex couples to marry the person they love, to establish and protect a family, and to make a lifetime commitment in the same way other couples are able to.

What defines a marriage is love and commitment, and the ability to protect your family.

It’s as basic as the Golden Rule.  Treating others as one would want to be treated includes allowing marriage for gay couples who are truly committed to each other. Most straight couples would never want someone telling them they couldn’t marry, and when they think about it, many say they wouldn’t want to deny that for anyone else. 

How would gay and lesbian couples marry? 

All couples who marry in the United States must get a license for a civil marriage, usually at a courthouse or city hall. These civil marriages would also be available to same-sex couples.

Some couples also choose to marry in a religious setting if permitted by their religious institution. 

Does civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples affect churches or other religious institutions? What if my religion opposes same-sex relationships?

Civil marriage for gay couples does not affect religious marriages, religious institutions or clergy in any way.  No religion would be forced to marry same-sex couples, or recognize same-sex marriages within the context of their religious beliefs. 

Learn about why the freedom to marry matters to people of faith

Aren't there other alternatives to marriage for gay couples?

There have been attempts to create marriage-like relationship systems, but they don’t provide the same security and protections.  In many states, same-sex couples that have domestic partnerships have been barred from a dying partner’s bedside, and denied the ability to say goodbye to the person they love.  That just doesn’t happen when you’re married.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships create a second-class status that often does not work in emergency situations when people need it most. In hospital emergency rooms, funeral homes, and when discussing benefits with employers, everyone understands the protections and responsibilities that marriage provides.

Read reports of evidence that civil unions and domestic partnerships do not provide equality.

How does marriage strengthen families?

Marriage gives couples the tools and the security to build a life together and to protect their families. Without the freedom to marry, gay and lesbian couples do not receive the same recognition or protections for their families as other couples.

Couples get married because they want to be there for each other in sickness and in health, when times are good and when things get tough. State and federal marriage laws provide a safety net of over 1,200 legal and economic protections for married couples and their children - including the ability to visit your spouse in the hospital and to transfer property, which can mean being able to remain in the family home when your spouse has passed away.

Same-sex couples are often denied:

  • hospital visitation when there's been an accident or illness, or
  • the ability to obtain "family" health coverage, or
  • taxation and inheritance rights, or
  • their role as parent of their children, or
  • even protection in case the relationship ends.

View the lists of protections denied and what happens to couples as a result.

Where can gay and lesbian couples get married? 

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia, have the freedom to marry for gay couples.

Learn more about what’s going on in your state.

How will this affect children?

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage harms children by denying them and their parents the support that would come to their families through the freedom to marry. Studies have proven that children of lesbian or gay parents are as well-adjusted as those of non-gay parents.

All major child welfare experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association, support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples because all children deserve the right to insurance coverage, social security, emergency care and inheritance rights no matter who their parents are. All families benefit from the reassurance that comes from knowing that your family is safe and secure.

Learn more about how the freedom to marry affects children and families

Isn't marriage really about procreation?

Gay and straight people want to marry for similar reasons. For many these reasons include parenting, for many others not. Millions of married couples do not have children (Bob and Elizabeth Dole, for example, or George and Martha Washington). And many gay men and lesbians do have children, but have been denied the ability to raise those children within a marital relationship. What defines a marriage is love and commitment, and the ability to protect your family. The choice to have children belongs to the couple, not the state.

Won’t this cost a lot of money?

No. In fact, ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage will save taxpayers money while boosting the economy. Federal recognition of the freedom to marry would result in nearly $1 billion of yearly savings for the federal government. Weddings for same-sex couples will result in an estimated $9.5 billion windfall for the American economy.

Instead, when denied the freedom to marry, a same-sex couple’s "lifetime cost of being gay" can rise to as much as $467,562. Read more.

Why don't we use the terms "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage?"

The terms "gay marriage" and “same-sex marriage” imply that same-sex couples are asking for rights or privileges that married couples do not have, or asking for something lesser or different. Gay and lesbian couples may seem different from straight couples, but we share similar values, like the freedom to marry the person they love. The Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and the right to marry belongs to us all. So we use phrases like, “equal marriage rights for all” or “the freedom to marry.”

Isn't this a bad time to fight for the freedom to marry?

Today, for the first time, a majority of Americans say that they support the freedom to marry. While legislatures and courts are grappling with the issue, the nation continues to move in favor of equality.

In response to this turning tide, opposition groups have escalated their push to force politicians and citizens into denying not just marriage, but any equal protections or recognition for America's gay couples and families.

This is not the first time our country has struggled with excluding some people from marriage. Read more about the history of marriage.

As always in the struggle for human rights, the outcome will depend on each of us doing our part. Join us on the Road to Victory and get involved today! 

How can I help?

We need everyone to do their part in order to win the freedom to marry.

Learn more about how we can win the freedom to marry nationwide, and how you can help.