The pressure is on.
In one fell swoop, the U.S. Supreme Court has spread marriage equality nationwide, and TV cameras are rushing to county courthouses to watch couples get married — young couples, couples who have been together for decades, couples who’ve been waiting for the chance to marry in their home state … and probably lots of couples who shouldn’t get married.
The urge is overpowering.
But whoa. Slow down. Take a breath. Just because you can get married doesn’t mean you should get married.
If you’re a product of the Texas education system, you were taught “abstinence only” sex education. Your health teacher, using no facts at all but following state law, taught you to wait until marriage to have sex. If it weren’t for other stupid things that have worked their way into Texas textbooks, I’d say that was the stupidest thing you were ever taught.
Let me help catch you up: Global warming is real. Evolution is more than a theory. The dinosaurs and Jesus didn’t roam the earth at approximately the same time. And it’s OK to have sex before marriage.
But here are some other things to think about before rushing down to get your license:
Think of your marriage this way. It’s forever. Don’t rush into it. Because if you ever decide to get divorced, it’s expensive.
Now that we can marry in Texas, “expensive” is a huge improvement over the old option — impossible. Two couples spent about five years getting divorced because although the Texas Supreme Court heard the cases years ago, the court didn’t rule until earlier this month.
But now that we have divorce in Texas, it’ll be expensive. You’ll need attorneys. You’ll have court dates. A judge will decide who gets custody of the dog. It’ll be a mess at best.
If you’re not married and break up, you rent a U-Haul and in one afternoon it’s over.
So don’t get married unless you really know what it means and what it takes to be together the rest of your lives. Sure, things happen and divorce is a reality. But don’t just rush into it. Making a political statement isn’t a good reason to marry. Pissing off the homophobic demonstrators in front of the County Records Building will be fun, but you don’t have to marry to do that.
Weight the costs. Once you’re married, you’ll be filing a joint tax return. That can be expensive. Or it can save you money.
The tax system was designed to benefit the Leave It To Beaver family. If Dad works and Mom stays home with the kids, the couple saves money on their federal income taxes.
When you both earn about the same amount, you’ll pay more as a married couple than as singles. However, if one earns significantly more than the other, you’ll generally save money filing as a couple.
You won’t have a choice how to file. Once you’re married, you either file jointly or you file as married, filing separately. For that last category, the rate is even higher. Mostly, that rate was designed for a married couple who has split up. Once you’re married, you can’t file as singles anymore, even though for you, that might be the lowest rate.
For older couples, social security and pensions should also be taken into account. As a married couple, will you earn more or less on your social security? Will you lose a pension that you were receiving if you marry? Will any disability benefits be affected?
After my mother died, my father remarried when he was in his 60s. My father and Ann had a ceremony with a rabbi, but never registered their marriage with New York. That was because Ann would have lost her first husband’s pension had she remarried legally. Instead she kept it for the next 20 years and the problems didn’t occur until she died. Her family successfully challenged the will, since my father wasn’t her legal spouse.
On the other hand, you may be able to pass benefits along to your partner that you couldn’t without that license. And if the person with the higher social security benefit dies, the spouse can claim the higher rate if you are legally married.
Every case is different and money may be a reason to marry … or to not marry. Just don’t be surprised. Before rushing into a marriage, talk to a financial planner who can answer those questions.
Or go ahead and get married
There are lots of reasons to get married. Financial security is one. You won’t need all those papers you now have to carry just to make sure that greedy family members don’t swoop in and evict you from your house if your spouse dies. You may be eligible for health benefits that may no longer go to “domestic partners” once everyone across the country can marry.
Love is another great reason. If you plan to always be together, go ahead. In addition to all those practical reasons like being able to visit your spouse in the hospital no questions asked, there’s that satisfaction of just being able to present yourselves as a family. There’s the additional benefit of pissing off a whole lot of people who still don’t believe you should be able to do that.
But remember, no one’s forcing you to get married. In all of history, there’s never been a shotgun lesbian wedding. No one’s ever gotten gay married because they’ve been knocked up. And despite what they taught you in Texas schools and in churches across the country, you can have sex before you get married and still live happily ever after.