Protections and Responsibilities of Marriage

There are over 1,100 protections and responsibilities conferred on married couples by the federal government including access to health care, parenting and immigration rights, social security, veterans and survivor benefits, and transfer of property—and that doesn't include several hundred state and local laws, protections conferred by employers, or the intangible security, dignity, respect, and meaning that comes with marriage.  Excluding committed same-sex couples from marriage means shutting out families from the safety and security created by these protections and responsibilities.


Taken as a whole, marriage law reveals a social consensus about how to treat two people who voluntarily pledge to care for each other and their children at life's extremes. Marriage laws enable (or require) couples to fulfill the most common wedding vows:

In sickness and in health. Marriage automatically enables spouses to visit each other in the hospital; to make each others' emergency medical decisions; to share a family health plan; and to take medical leave to care for a sick spouse or child.

For richer and for poorer. Marriage means that governments, banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions will consider both spouses's incomes, assets, or debts in such matters as taxes, credit, loans, inheritance, divorce settlements, and eligibility for public housing, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits.

When a child joins the family. Marriage automatically enables the spouses to be joint parents, covering such situations as making school or medical decisions, applying for passports, passing on inheritances, or being eligible for visitation rights and child support obligations if the parents separate.

When death parts the pair. Marriage law enables a survivor to continue to care for (or be cared for by) the dead partner in such situations as making funeral arrangements, inscribing an epitaph, inheriting a lease, filing wrongful death claims, taking bereavement leave, and passing on property.

Lists of protections and responsibilities marriage provides


Discrimination: Protections Denied to Same-Sex Couples and Their Kids
From Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry
Some of the ways in which government's denying the freedom to marry punishes couples and families by depriving them of critical tangible as well as intangible protections and responsibilities in virtually every area of life.

Defense of Marriage Act: An Update to Prior Report
General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C.
January 2004
The GAO counts 1,138 federal statutory provisions in the United States Code which provide protections and responsibilities to married couples.

1324 reasons for marriage equality in New York State
Empire State Pride Agenda
June 2007
A list of all the 1,324 New York state statutes and regulations that confer a right or duty on married individuals in New York State — most of which cannot be obtained by any other way but through marriage.