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Same-Sex Couples? Why Should You Have to Be Any Kind of Couple to Qualify for Benefits and Protections?

supremecourtcrpdI’m all for the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. Society should constantly move toward greater inclusiveness and more fairness. The current debates that have reached the Supreme Court, though, ask a question that is too narrow and too timid. We should not be asking, “Why should you have to be a particular kind of couple – one man and one woman – in order to qualify for all of the benefits, protections, and privileges of marriage (as well as the official designation)?” Instead, we should be asking, “Why should you have to be any kind of couple at all?”

Marriage should not be a ticket to privilege. Opening the doors of marriage to more kinds of people does add to inclusiveness, but it still leaves out many people of all sexual orientations who are just not into coupling, or who, for whatever reason, are not coupled.

Sally Kohn described what it might mean to set aside official marriage as the criterion for access to the 1,000+ federal benefits that are currently tied to that status:

“…perhaps the next step isn’t to, once again, expand the otherwise narrow definition of marriage, but to altogether abolish the false distinction between married families and other equally valid but unrecognized partnerships.

“…I think I should be able to decide what constitutes my family — whether it’s me and my same-sex partner and our toddler, or me and my elderly mother and father, or me and my best friend who want to care for and love each other but not necessarily be intimate. The job of the state is to protect my family and our rights — not decide that two parents plus kids makes a family and everything else is an exception to the rule at best.

“…If I am my best friend’s primary caregiver, then I should be able to sign up to be one of, say, three people who have hospital visitation rights. If I want my closest aunt to be my Social Security beneficiary, why should the government stop me from signing her up? If I can use my cell phone to vote for American Idol, I’m sure I can press a few keys and designate my next of kin.”

I have been arguing something similar for years. (See, for example, “Does the Prop 8 ruling make the case for ending marital privilege?”) So have dozens of other people, though their voices are mostly lost in the debate that is all about who gets let into the gates of the Married Couples Club.

To commemorate National Singles Week in 2010, Rachel Buddeberg and I put together a set of excerpts from many different people in “Should marriage be a ticket to privilege? Several dozen skeptics weigh in.” The skeptics we quoted included “libertarians, liberals, and conservatives; people from various religious perspectives; gay rights activists and people hostile toward the GLBT community; people taking a marketplace perspective as their starting point and others starting from a concern with basic human dignities and needs.” Take a look; I think you will be inspired – or outraged, if you disagree.

I’m sure we missed many voices in our survey, and in the intervening years, others have also articulated similar positions. If you know of any, please share that in the Comments section.

Supreme Court photo available from Shutterstock

Same-Sex Couples? Why Should You Have to Be Any Kind of Couple to Qualify for Benefits and Protections?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2013). Same-Sex Couples? Why Should You Have to Be Any Kind of Couple to Qualify for Benefits and Protections?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Mar 2013
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