Advice: Outside the Box

Dear Dr. Fred:

My partner and I have been together over 20 years in a monogamous, committed relationship. While we support marriage equality and have many gay friends who have married in other states, we’ve never felt the need to get married or even have a commitment ceremony ourselves.

For one thing, we don’t feel we need a formality to legitimize our commitment to each other — we know we are going to be together for the rest of our lives and that’s enough for us. Also, we have wills leaving everything to each other, so it wouldn’t affect our inheritances in any way.

For another thing, it feels to us like trying to “measure up” to the heterosexual lifestyle. We feel marriage is something straight people do, and one of the reasons we came out as gay men was to differentiate ourselves from the straight world. So why try to pattern our lives after theirs?

Finally, our accountant, who is a gay man in a long-term, committed relationship, has advised us that in our particular financial circumstances, marrying not only wouldn’t give us any tax benefits, but would actually hurt us. My partner makes a great deal of money, while I am retired with my chief income being my monthly social security payments. Presently my social security isn’t taxed, but if we marry it would be, so I would actually have less income at the end of the day.

Recently, however, we’ve begun to have questions about all of this, and many of our friends have been pressuring us to reconsider our stance on marrying.

Another consideration is FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) policies and my health. I am quite a bit older than my partner, and while I’m in excellent shape now, I can imagine a time when I won’t be. ,4s an unmarried couple, my partner couldn’t take FMLA benefits to take care of me in the event of any health problems I might develop, but if we were married he could.

Last, but not least, our families and friends are really after us to many. We don’t socialize a lot but over the course of the last month, have been to four or five different parties.

At every single one of these events the conversation eventually got to gay marriage, and people turned to us and asked, “So when are you two getting married?”

When we replied that we didn’t intend to, they confronted us with all kinds of questions and arguments: “Well, why in the world not? Don’t you love each other and want to declare that love to the world? What if someone contests your wills and tries to disinherit you?”

And on and on this went until we had to firmly change the subject. But it’s gotten us thinking nonetheless that maybe we ought to get married after all. What is your advice on the topic?

Signed,

Thinking Twice

 

 

Dear Thinking Twice:

Your question is certainly a timely one and one that I can relate to personally both in my own home life and my therapy practice as well. The issue has come up several times with clients in my office, and a recent Fourth of July picnic my partner and I attended turned into a lively debate on the topic. Frankly, I have a divided opinion on the matter, based partly on personal feelings and partly on professional training and beliefs.

Starting with the professional angle first, I believe the decision whether to marry or not needs to be grounded primarily in emotional factors, rather than financial or legal ones, (although the latter also deserve careful consideration). In the process of pestering you to marry, you friends have actually expressed some of my own thoughts

in this regard, when they talked about “declaring your love to the world.” If a couple honestly feel the need to many in order to enhance their relationship in some way or to formally announce it to the world, I say go for it.

Everyone should have the right to express their love in the ways that feel best for them, and I sincerely hope you’re correct about Governor Pence being thwarted in his latest anti-gay efforts.

Considering the financial and legal ramifications, I normally counsel clients to explore these thoroughly with their attorneys and accountants and to do whatever seems most advantageous to them based on the expert advice they get.

On a more personal level, I tend to share your thinking about marriage not being especially relevant to me and my partner as gay men. We too have a deep, lifelong commitment to each other, and while we’ve discussed the option of marrying several times over the years, we always land on the side of not doing it.

It just doesn’t seem necessary to us — emotionally, legally or financially. We support our friends who have married and are very happy for them to have done so. However, for now at least were in no rush to get to the altar.

Fred Schloemer, Ed.D., LCSW, is a gay psychotherapist. Send him your questions at FredSchloemer@aol.com

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