Getting Married: What It Really Means

Getting advice from a lawyer about whether to get married is a little like getting advice from a poet about whether to buy a dishwasher. He might give you an interesting take on the matter, but when it comes to what’s really important about the decision, he is pretty much useless.

Now that marriage is available to same-sex couples all across America, many are asking whether the legal benefits make getting married a smart move. In many cases, these couples have been together for years or even decades. Factors like compatibility, shared goals, and a sense of commitment are already well established. With those out of the way, shouldn’t legal concerns be the primary factor in deciding whether to tie the knot?

Marriage does confer important legal benefits. Married couples often pay less in income and death taxes than their unwed counterparts. They enjoy preferential treatment from Social Security, Medicare, and the military. They can even be saved from having to testify against each other in court.

But before deciding whether the legal advantages are worthwhile, it’s worth considering why the benefits of marriage extend into the realm of public policy in the first place.

The government supports marriage because marriage promotes cohesion and stability in society. It encourages people to put down roots and become more engaged members of their communities. For couples with children, marriage also helps to foster households where the kids can thrive in a protective and nurturing environment.

Just as marriage is good for society, it is good for the couples who enter into it. Statistics show that married couples tend to live longer, healthier, and happier lives than those who remain unwed.

This sense of happiness often begins with the wedding itself. Even couples who have been together for years may experience an outpouring of excitement at what is seen as a new beginning. They could hear unexpected expressions of welcome from each other’s families. And they may find that their well-established relationship suddenly feels different—more intimate, more loving, and more joyous.

Even couples who have been together for years may experience an outpouring of excitement at what is seen as a new beginning.

As the traditional liturgy puts it, marriage shouldn’t be “taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly.” But neither should the right to get married be taken for granted. The LGBT community fought hard for the freedom to marry. By exchanging wedding vows, gay and lesbian couples can now better themselves by joining this venerable institution.

And it’s an institution that could use our help.

The divorce rate in America has leveled off in recent years, but only because fewer couples are getting married in the first place. An interesting aspect of this trend is that couples who do walk down the aisle tend to be better educated and more affluent than those who remain single.

The expense of staging a wedding may be part of the reason. Modern marriage has been called a luxury good, and with the average cost of a wedding running upwards of $25,000.00, it’s easy to see why. Many couples who can’t afford lavish nuptials are simply forgoing marriage altogether.

This is one area where the LGBT community is taking the lead. Many gay and lesbian weddings are taking place in quiet parks and urban apartments, in courthouse chapels and leafy backyards. The focus is on celebrating love and commitment rather than throwing a grand party.

And these marriages are destined to last. New research shows that the more money two people spend on their nuptials, the more likely their marriage is to end in divorce. In other words, long marriages often begin with frugal weddings.

Marriage is good for society, good for couples, and good for children. But the best reasons to get married aren’t legal. They are deeply personal and affect a couple’s emotional and social well-being.

By all means consult a lawyer to help you take full advantage of the law. At a minimum, you’ll need Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Advance Healthcare Directives. But first, find the right person, fall in love, and commit yourselves to staying together, come what may.