Being unable to marry places longtime committed couples such as
Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin of Broken Arrow into a kind of legal
limbo, with issues including taxes, health care, retirement benefits
"Sharon and I carry around with us in our luggage all of our
legal documents that give each other rights that we would
automatically have if we were married," said Bishop.
Those include their living wills, health care proxies and durable
powers of attorney.
If one of them is hurt somehow and cannot make decisions, "We
want the other one to be that person who has that power," Bishop
Being able to produce those documents would help preserve their
sense of familial relationship during a time of crisis, she added.
Baldwin and Bishop have been together almost 12 years. They
underwent a commitment ceremony in Florida in 2000.
Baldwin said having the documents drawn up to outline their legal
wishes cost about $1,300, much more than a marriage license.
"There may be young gay couples out there who are just struggling
to get by week to week, and they don't have $1,300 to give a
lawyer," she said.
The benefits of legal marriage extend into other areas, Bishop
"The government provides financial benefits or incentives for
people to get married," she said, stressing that those are not the
most important reasons. "It rewards people for that."
As just one example, she said, when one partner in a marriage
dies, the surviving spouse can receive Social Security benefits in
"Then there's the issue that we're not even allowed to choose
whether we want to file our income taxes separately or jointly, like
married couples have the right to do," Bishop said.
Even in states with more gay-friendly policies, such as
Massachusetts and California, couples must file their income tax
returns using their federal status, and federal law does not permit
same-sex couples to file jointly, Baldwin said.
Bishop said that recognized family members can be put on an
employee's health insurance, whereas a gay partner cannot, unless
his or her company provides domestic partner benefits.
Baldwin estimated that 500-600 companies may provide such
Some might say that the government has no right getting involved
in marriage in the first place, Bishop said.
"The fact is, it already does," she said. "But it treats people
Bishop said there are more than 1,000 provisions in federal law
that relate to marital status, and give rights and benefits to
Bishop, Baldwin and another couple challenged Oklahoma and
federal laws banning gay marriage in 2004. The case is currently on
appeal before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bishop said she and Baldwin chose to make their legal stand where
they live rather than moving to, say, California. …