By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Founding Editor, bSci21.org
Today was an historic day in the United States. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage across all 50 states by a 5-4 vote. Throngs of same sex-couples filed for marriage licenses immediately thereafter.
In case you haven’t noticed, same-sex marriage is a controversial issue in politics, and is sure to be a central topic in the 2016 presidential race. Democrats seem to be in near unanimous celebration at the decision, though they were significantly split on the issue in past elections. To Democrats, the issue is one of equality, pure and simple. Republicans are expectedly resistant to the decision, basing their concerns on the defense of religious liberty.
Both groups have objectively valid points, but here’s why there’s so much fuss over same-sex marriage — marriage is tied to two competing sets of contingencies: those of a religious sort, and those of a legal sort.
If marriage was purely a legal or religious institution, the debate would be mute. But it isn’t. Marriage is among the oldest of human traditions that came out of religious practices and acquired legal functions relatively recently, within the past few hundred years (see a recent bSci21 article on the topic).
The reality today is that marriage is a legal, state-sponsored, institution that carries with it a host of beneficial contingencies (mainly financial) to those who participate. Recent articles from USA Today and Bloomberg Business discuss many such contingencies, which will be outlined in combined form below.
1) Prenuptial Agreements: A good proportion of marriages today end in divorce, and many couples decide to arrange a prenuptial agreement beforehand. Prenuptial agreements serve to protect property and businesses should the marriage fail.
2) Income Tax Benefits: The ability to file a joint federal and state income tax return can mean you pay less to the IRS each year. However, if both people earn extremely high incomes, marriage can actually be a penalty.
3) Retirement & Social Security: Marriage simplifies the retirement planning process, and allows the sharing of one another’s retirement and Social Security funds. Married couples can leave rollover IRA accounts to spouses when one passes away, which has tax advantages than other types of IRAs. Moreover, the surviving spouse benefits more in Social Security returns.
4) Primary Residence: When you’re married and you sell a house, a hefty portion of the sale can be excluded from taxes.
5) Estate Planning and Gifting: Married couples can leave property and gifts to one another without tax concerns.
6) Property: If one person in a marriage passes away with no will, the spouse can easily acquire his/her property.
7) Parenting: Gaining custody of children born to partners is typically easier, though adopting oversees can remain a challenge for same-sex couples.
8) Immigration: Obtaining a green card is much easier if you are legally married to a U.S. citizen.
9) Health Care: If you have insurance through your employer, getting your spouse covered is much easier. You also automatically have a right to visit your spouse in the hospital and to make medical decisions for them.
Let us know what you think about the contingencies surrounding marriage in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive new articles directly to your inbox!
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at email@example.com.