Between the comments on the ‘Rethinking Retirement’ post this morning, and the ‘Say What’/gay-marriage comments this evening… it occurs to me that for a lot of Americans, marriage has become the last social safety net. The heavy hand of tradition — I’m talking law, not religion, because the ‘religious’ component to marriage has been secondary to its political ramifications for at least the past several centuries — has ensured that a married couple have a boatload of “rights” and privileges not available outside that state-sanctioned status. And many of those rights, in our capitalist culture, involve money, or rather some form of ‘safety net’ to protect the partners inside a marriage from the dire effects of not having money. Married people get tax breaks just for being married, but these days the real bonus to signing the government’s paper is that married people can get covered under each other’s health plans, contribute to each other’s retirement programs, and inherit not only physical assets but “survivor rights” to each other’s pensions and Social Security.
Right now, I’m not employed, but we’re surviving because my Spousal Unit *is* — and praise goddess his company has a group insurance plan, because otherwise I’d probably be uninsurable, at least at a price we could afford. For a few years, he had been unemployed, and we got by on my (much lower) salary, my company-sponsored group health insurance, and by gutting our miniscule 401(k)s. (And I don’t even want to think about where we’d be if we had kids, of course. There have been very few days over the last 8 to 10 years when I didn’t think, ‘At least we don’t have kids to worry about.’) It seems like there are quite a few fellow BJ-ers who are in the same situation… making it, if only by the skin of our teeth, because we have the advantage of patching together our spotty part-time, contract-based, on-and-off “careers” plus the government- and corporate-sponsored tax / benefit advantages (limited as they are).
Given this situation, is it really that surprising that suddenly (/snark) gay couples are very publicly demanding access to the last American safety net?