A national organization devoted to obtaining and ensuring the rights of marriage for anyone who wants it says there are 1,138 federal benefits and responsibilities that go along with saying "I do."
Among those cited by the group, Marriage Equality USA, are practical considerations such as hospital visitation rights, the opportunity to make medical decisions for a disabled or ill spouse and a variety of automatic rights guaranteed by law if a will does not exist.
Then there are the employer benefits routinely offered to spouses, such as sick leave, bereavement leave and access to health insurance and pension income. Other pluses for married couples include not being separated in elderly care facilities and, when a marriage ends, having a uniform system for distributing property and for awarding custody and spousal support.
Finances are a significant area in which a marriage license guarantees some benefits. Married couples can give each other an unlimited number of gifts without being taxed, enjoy creditor protection of their marital home, be treated as an economic unit and file joint tax returns (under which they will pay the marriage penalty), get joint health, home and auto insurance policies and get financial spousal benefits such as disability and Social Security.
There are also the physical and psychological health benefits that accrue to married couples. Decades of social science and health science research shows that married people live longer and lead healthier lives.
The list goes on and on.
All are valid reasons for supporting marriage equality, a term that is used synonymously with same-sex marriage.
The debate over marriage equality long has been dominated by religious, moral and legal implications. Increasingly, the discussion has turned to the legal and business impact of broadening marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships to same-sex couples.
Gary Gates, a senior research fellow with UCLA's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy and author of "The Gay and Lesbian Atlas," says there are about 9 million people in the United States who identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Mr. Gates says there are 780,000 same-sex couples in the country and that a quarter of them are parents to about 380,000 children.
Mr. Gates and his colleagues have found that given a choice, same-sex couples prefer marriage over a civil union or domestic partnership. In states that offer marriage equality, a third of same-sex couples got married the first year they could.
Business leaders have found that tolerance helps them attract better, talented and more creative employees. Extending domestic benefits to same-sex partners also is a draw.
Nine states now allow same-sex couples to marry. Illinois could become the 10th; legislators are expected to vote on the topic during their lame duck session, which ends next Wednesday.
This could be a make-or-break year for the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court will consider two same-sex marriage cases this year. The first is a challenge to a voter initiative passed in California that limited marriage to a man and a woman. The other is a New York case challenging a federal law that requires the government to deny benefits to gay and lesbian couples who marry in states that allow such unions.
Marriage confers significant benefits on couples, and America has a history of ending discrimination when possible. For lesbians, gays and bisexuals, it's possible now, and now is the time.