As the prevalence of unmarried couples rises, more companies and state and local governments are providing a range of domestic partner benefits. Some, like New York state, require that medical benefits be extended to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Other states, like Illinois extend such benefits only to same-sex partners.
This prompted Nat-Wu to ask me:
So will unmarried couples never run into legal trouble? If that's the case, what's the point of getting married?
Unfortunately, this isn't true. There's still plenty of legal trouble that unmarried couples can run into, as I explained in my reply.
Ah, but they will. By not marrying, heterosexual couples are forcing states and corporations to extend benefits to unmarried partners, which helps homosexual couples as well by relation. Unfortunately, although parental rights are not usually affected by marriage status anymore (most states think that's unfair to the kids) spousal rights certainly are, at least by law. Couples that only live together and later decide to separate but who can't make a case for some sort of common-law marriage (which is getting more difficult as courts think since it's easier to get married, more people should) have a considerably more difficult time dividing up their property afterwards depending on what state they're in. Also, unmarried partners don't get the same say in medical decisions that married partners do in most states. I still say that if you intend to be with someone the rest of your life, you should marry them. Your rights as a life partner to someone should not depend on what benefits the state is willing to convey as a result of your unmarried status, as that can be wildly different from one state to next.
In other words, don't just not shack up because you know-for example-you'll still get your parental rights and your partner's insurance when and if they die. I will say that Texas, as a community property state, will attempt to make a fair distribution of property even if you aren't married. But Texas is one of only nine community property states. Separate property states can be a little fussier about rights to property for people that don't get married, and in some states you are obligated to get back little of what you've put into the relationship economically if you didn't get married, no matter how long you are with your partner or how much you contribute economically. Also, as I mention above, unmarried partners don't necessarily get the same right to make medical decisions for a partner as a spouse does for another spouse. This can mean that-for example-if your partner ends up on a ventilator that they told you they'd rather not be on, their family might step in and completely remove you from having any say in the matter.
So all in all, unless you have some philosophical or practical objection to marriage, you really ought to tie the knot if you see yourself with that person the rest of your life. The rights of you and your spouse may be in jeopardy otherwise.
UPDATE: All of that notwithstanding, it's clear that there are some people who simply should not be married.