Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why marriage matters (middle school version)

On Sunday our church's religious education program is focusing on gay marriage as a social justice issue for our church. All K-8 students will start together, reading and discussing And Tango Makes Three, and then splitting into age groups to discuss marriage further. K and I have been asked to talk to the middle schoolers about our relationship and why marriage matters to us. Hmm, in a way that middle schoolers can understand. So we started thinking about the basics and what marriage might mean to a 12 year old, and some specifics that a 12 year old might be able to grasp. Here's what I've come up with so far, though I think some of this material might be stretching it in terms of what they can grasp. Your thoughts?

1. Having a baby. It's not a given that K will be the legal parent of this child. We have to petition the court for this right, and they could deny it, and do for many couples, and in many states they don't allow it at all. Then K would not be able to take this baby to the doctor, to take the child to the hospital if there is an emergency, to pick up the child from school without my permission, to decide which school the child goes to. Also, if I were to die, our children would be legally given to my parents and taken away from K as she would not be considered their legal parent. We are currently in the process of creating our petition to the court and we have to gather letters from our friends and family saying K is a good person and will be a good parent, letters from our doctors saying we are healthy, financial statements saying that we can afford to raise this baby, and lots of other documents. Hopefully the petition will be approved before the baby is three months old and K will be the legal parent of this child.

2. Going to the hospital. If one of us gets hit by a car and has to go to the hospital in an emergency, it is not guaranteed that the other will be able to visit. In a time when you want your family the most, your life partner may be denied access to visit you. Hospitals only allow immediate family in emergency situations, and immediate family is defined as parents, siblings, spouses, and children. Since we are not married, we are not spouses and so we are not defined as immediate family. We have legal paperwork that says that in MD/DC/VA we can be considered immediate family, but outside of MD/DC/VA, these papers do not hold. So if we go on vacation just a few hours away to WV or PA, and get into a car accident, we won't be able to see each other in the hospital.

3. Death. For married couples, if one person dies, the other person automatically assumes ownership of the others property. Since we are not married, this is not automatic. We can create wills that say that the partner inherits all property after death. However, because we are not married, we will have to pay taxes on the property we inherit. So, say we own a house together that costs $400,000. We own the house together and have both paid equally for the house. If one of us dies, that person's half of the house ($200,000) will be inherited by the other. The person still living will have to pay 10% inheritance taxes on the worth of that house, which is $20,000. So, because one partner died, the other partner will have to pay $20,000 for a house they already own. This will be very hard financially because that is a lot of money.

4. Social Security. When a person dies, the government pays social security benefits monthly to the spouse for the rest of their life to help cover the cost of the lost income from the person dying. This is a monthly paycheck to replace the paycheck of the person who died. The idea is that a family's expenses don't go down just because some one died - you still have to pay for your house, groceries for yourself and your children, college for your children, and all of the other expenses of life, but not only on one income. So the government helps with social security. However, since we are not married, this doesn't cover us. So if one of us dies, we will not receive this government help, and will have to cover all of our bills with just one income, which may be very hard.

5. Health Insurance. Many people receive health insurance through their work. Some people don't get insurance through work (like real estate agents), or they don't work (like if a mom or dad stays home to take care of children). Those people typically get insurance through their spouse's work. If you are unmarried, you cannot get insurance through your partner's work. Without health insurance, you have to pay full price for any medical procedure. Say you break your arm or get into a car accident - this will cost thousands of dollars, but with insurance it may cost nothing at all or less than $100. Think about something worse, like cancer, which may be a very long and expensive treatment. Without insurance, this would be impossible to pay for.

6. Family medical leave. By federal law, a person is allowed to take three months off of work to care for a family member who is ill. Family members are defined as spouses, parents, and children. Since we are not spouses, this federal law doesn't apply to us. Therefore, say one of us gets hit by a car. The other would not have the right to take time off of work to take care of the other. If we chose to do so, we may get fired from our jobs. Without our jobs, we may be not able to pay for our home, our car, our groceries. Luckily for us, MD has created a state law that extends this federal law, but people in other states are not as lucky.

7. Maternity/Paternity leave. Many companies offer their employees time off to care for their child when it is born. Typically maternity leave is offered for women who give birth and paternity leave is offered for the fathers. For unmarried couples like us, paternity leave does not apply. Therefore, K would not be able to take time off to care for her new born child because we are not married, and I would be stuck at home by myself going crazy. Luckily for us, her company is allowing this but many do not.

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