Expanding Freedom

ABQjournal: Get State Out of Marriage Role By Mary Ellen S. Capek

As a social institution, civil marriage has changed considerably over time, and the laws have followed.

When a woman married in the 19th century, she lost all her civil rights. Women and children were chattel, the property of their husbands and fathers. My great-grandmother was not able to inherit property and would have lost custody of her children had she sought to leave an abusive marriage.

As recently as 1967, a Caucasian man and an African-American woman would not have been able to marry in 16 states — and their children would have been deprived the benefits and protections of their parents’ marriage. …

Many committed gay and lesbian families are models of nonhierarchical family units and are actually more stable than some so-called “traditional” marriages that dictate inequality and preach dominance of husbands over wives — not a healthy model for sustaining marriages or raising children.

Divorce rates in predominantly “Bible Belt” states are evidence of these failures— 73 percent in Mississippi, for example, 79 percent in Oklahoma. (The national heterosexual divorce rate is 51 percent.) Two of the most significant threats to the institution of traditional marriage are sexism and divorce. …

Lesbian and gay families lack essential state and federal benefits that automatically accompany a marriage license, for example, financial and legal rights that protect a surviving spouse when a partner dies — which include automatic inheritance, assumption of a spouse’s pension, bereavement leave, burial determination, exemption from property taxes, Social Security survivor benefits, and the right to wrongful death benefits.

Additional government-bestowed protections for families include divorce, child custody and visitation rights, joint adoption and foster care, domestic violence restraints, immigration rights for a foreign spouse, insurance discounts, joint bankruptcy, joint parenting, medical decisions, and sick leave to care for a spouse.

The most profound threats to the institution of “traditional” marriage in New Mexico are the domino effects of poverty: violations of basic human needs for shelter, security and well-being. …

Mary Ellen S. Capek, a researcher and consultant, is co-author of “Effective Philanthropy: Organizational Success Through Deep Diversity and Gender Equality,” a book written for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that will be published by MIT Press in 2005. Capek and her partner, Sue Hallgarth, live in Corrales and got married Sept. 16 in Victoria, Canada.

mjh’s weBlog: Read the Conservative argument FOR gay marriage