Gay couples could face economic trouble if they tie the knot, says UBC law prof
While same-sex marriage affirms important equality rights for gays and lesbians, it can also lead to unforeseen consequences, says Susan Boyd, a professor of family law at the University of British Columbia. She offers a feminist critique of the institution.
What are the downsides to getting married?
Marriage is more than just a contract between two individuals. It plays a regulatory role in our lives and is a state system for organizing and allocating rights, responsibilities and public resources. Married low-income couples that live near the poverty line may face economic disadvantages because they often lose their entitlement to state benefits since their individual incomes are combined. Entitlement to student loans or social assistance can be lost when a couple is legally recognized. Proponents of marriage typically only talk about the benefits that marriage will bring, but not the penalties.
Are there any legal issues that are particular to same-sex marriages?
Once legally married, same-sex spouses in Canada have the same legal rights and duties that arise for opposite-sex spouses. Although it was not clear at the outset, it is now clear that same-sex married couples can divorce under the same terms as opposite-sex couples. For example, it is now clear that “adultery” includes same-sex acts as well as opposite-sex acts. There may still be some lack of clarity about legal parenthood status for same-sex parents.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada for almost 10 years, so where is the debate headed?
We need to shake up the extent to which legally recognized marriages or common-law relationships are used to regulate benefits. We over-romanticize the institution of marriage and this shifts attention away from more important matters, like ensuring individuals have the right to social entitlements and benefits, regardless of whether their relationship is legally recognized or not.
Why do we need a critical look at the institution of marriage?
Strategies that promote marriage as a primary social and legal institution reinforce the notion that those who live in other ways, such as unmarried or single adults, are somehow inferior. People come to see marriage as the preferred sphere in which to raise children, which suggests that children born into unmarried or single parent homes are disadvantaged from the get-go.
Boyd, Chair in Feminist Legal Studies at the UBC Faculty of Law, offers a feminist critique of same-sex marriage in a recently published paper, Marriage is More than Just a Piece of Paper: Feminist Critiques of Same Sex Marriage