Should unmarried couples have the same rights as married people?
With marriage equality being the law of the land, there’s still a group of people — both gay and straight – who are continuing the fight for equality.
Couples that have no desire to get married.
“We shouldn’t all have to get married to be treated equally,” said Sarah Wright, board chairwoman of Unmarried Equality.
Originally called the Alternatives to Marriage Project, the nonprofit was founded in 1998 by Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot, a straight, unmarried couple. They were frustrated with the discrimination they faced for not being married, including when they tried to lease an apartment together.
As long-time LGBT couples are fully aware, before their right to marriage was affirmed by the Supreme Court, unmarried couples do not have rights to one another’s health insurance, can’t visit each other in the ICU in some hospitals, and do not stand to inherit from their deceased partner.
“The privileges of marriage are entirely unearned,” Wright said. “It’s one choice among many, it’s on the continuum of relationship status, but it’s the one that gets all the attention and all the goodies.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, married couples gain 1,138 rights once they say “I do.”
Miller and Solot wanted to change that. The couple started the group to serve as advocates for unmarried couples, straight or gay, to ensure that they would be able to live a full life together regardless of the rings on their finger. In the midst of the marriage equality debates, the nonprofit changed their name to Unmarried Equality in 2013. Today, Miller and Solot are still happily unmarried with children.
“We advocate essentially for a broader social affirmation of family diversity, which of course is the trend,” Wright said. “Right now, if there’s really this kind of one default choice that’s feeling a little compulsory. That is a turn off to not only gay couples but to some straight couples too.”
This includes rights regarding cohabitation, health care, military relationships, immigration, and before the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, those who could not get married.
However, Wright emphasizes that Unmarried Equality is not opposed to marriage – they just want rights for couples who choose not to get married, whatever reason that is.
Marriage is a personal choice, and the reasons a couple may choose not to get married vary, from not subscribing to the ideas of traditional marriage, age, financial reasons, not wanting to get remarried, or the couple is not yet ready to be married. And now that LGBT couples can legally marry in all 50 states, some are feeling the pressure to walk down the aisle.
“We do support more choices for more people,” she explained. “We understand the nuclear family is no more and we are very conscious of the fact that now the average American does in fact spend the majority of his or her life unmarried…. We’re basically trying to have a conversation around the changing family structure.”
With the American family in shift, it raises the question, what makes a family?
Currently, the Scarborough 11 is fighting that in court. Eight adults and three children live together under one roof in Hartford, Conn. and consider themselves to be a family, but the law doesn’t see it that way. With zoning laws stating that only two people who are not related by blood, marriage, civil union or adoption can live in a home, some members of the Scarborough 11 are facing eviction.
“This issue of the government deciding who is a legitimate family and who is illegitimate is unacceptable to us,” Joshua Blanchfield, one of the Scarborough 11 living with his wife and two children, told the Hartford Courant.
According to the Courant, the antiquated law was made to refer to live-in servants.
Wright herself is in a domestic partnership and has faced problems. Her partner was working for a national corporate chain, which offered the two women insurance as it recognized domestic partnerships. However, when her partner switched to a statewide employer, Wright was no longer able to receive the benefits.
“My partner was married and divorced once before. I’ve never been married,” Wright explained. “When I’m faced with checking off a martial status check box, I just cross out the whole section and write ‘none.’ I just reject the whole concept out of hand.”
Plus, there’s the divorce rate.
“If marriage really were a business, it would have closed,” Wright said. “It would have closed a long time ago.”