Despite the fact that this new SLC registry is almost entirely symbolic, in that most if not all companies that want to offer partner benefits already do, I still think it’s an important step in our state, and hopefully in the long term as more and more cities and states offer some protection under the law, there will be changes on a federal level as well.

This debate becomes so emotional, and I understand why. Even though the truth is not that marriage has always been a sacred union between one man and one woman, but in fact was for most of history a purely business transaction between families with interest in joining land and other property, I can still understand people’s gut reaction to the idea that two men or two women don’t constitute a marriage.

But I find in talking to people about specifics, most of them are shocked to find out what being denied the ability to marry really means, in practical terms. Here is what it means to me, and to my partnership:

* We can be denied the ability to see each other in the hospital or make decisions regarding each other’s care. For us, we are lucky that both sets of our parents are supportive of us and would not deny us this. And we can and should fill out paperwork to designate each other as having power of attorney and to designate any health care requirements (DNR, etc.), but in an emergency, if you don’t happen to have your paperwork on you, who wants to be hassled by a well-meaning but ignorant doctor or nurse about your right to be in the room with your loved one? Married couples do not have to worry about this. I’m willing to bet even unmarried straight couples rarely get questioned on their right to be in a hospital room.

* My partner’s business offers domestic partner health benefits, although because I am also employed we don’t take advantage of it. We each have separate health insurance policies. But if I were ever unemployed, and we signed up for partner benefits, we would have to pay income tax on the value of the insurance policy.

* We recently purchased our first home together. We are co-borrowers on the loan and we hold the title jointly, with right of survivorship, which means if one of us dies the other will automatically inherit the “other half” of the house. We can and should also make wills, spelling out that we are each others benefactors. But because we are not married, the surviving partner will have to pay inheritance taxes on the portion of the house they inherit. This means that many “widowed” partners still end up losing their homes after the death of their partner.

* We both have 401(k) policies with our employers, and we have designated each other as beneficiaries. However, because we aren’t married, if one of us dies the surviving partner would have to pay up to 70% of that policy in taxes and penalties. A married spouse would be able to inherit the policy without taxes or penalties.

* If one of us becomes ill or disabled, the other is not eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. We would have to continue working, and limit the care we could offer each other, or we would have to quit our jobs.

These very basic things that inhibit our ability to take care of each other, and the part I don’t understand is why giving us these rights would impart harm on anyone else’s marriage or bring about the end of western civilization as we know it. I wish the discussion could take a more practical approach more often, because I really believe that if more people knew what is actually involved, they would have less of a gut reaction that gay marriage is wrong, and realize that if we are committed to each other, we should be able to provide for each other. Period. End of sentence.

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