Today many single bloggers will be writing about the unequal treatment of single people. Many will be writing about the financial benefits that are showered upon married people as discussed in the Atlantic Monthly's article The High Price of Being Single in America. According to the article the unmarried among us pay between $484,368 and $1,022,096 for a lifetime of being single. And it is true that married people receive financial breaks on a lot of things: taxes, health insurance, car insurance, and of course they share expenses for things like housing and food but there are other privileges conferred upon married people other than financial ones.
A married person has power of attorney for their spouse. Should one member of the couple become incapacitated or otherwise be unable to care for his or herself the spouse automatically has the right to make decisions for them.
If a spouse becomes hospitalized the other spouse has the right to have access to the hospitalized person, they can also make healthcare decisions on their behalf if the other person is not conscious. In addition under the Family and Medical Leave Act a person can take time off from work to care for their ill spouse without the worry of losing their job.
Then there are inheritance rights. When a person dies intestate, without a will, in most states all of their worldly possessions will go to their next of kin which, if you are married, is your spouse. If you are not married it is likely your children or siblings will inherit your estate. If however, you have chosen to not have children and you have no living family members (which is statistically quite possible for many of us even if we are married) it's the state that inherits your estate.
These are just a few examples of the privileges that come from marriage. The only other people in your lives who have these privileges are your blood kin who you had no say in choosing. It is also quite likely, particularly if you are female or an only child, that you may outlive your next of kin, or that some of these decisions might fall into the hands of a distant relative who doesn't know you and is unaware of your preferences and choices.
Right now if you wanted to grant many of the above lists rights to another person it means hiring a lawyer to write up a will, create powers of attorney and other documents granting these to another person. Even then it isn't perfect. You still would not be protected under the FMLA if you took time off to care for that person and we see stories everyday of hospitals removing people from the bedside of dying loved ones simply because they are not married, even if they do have power of attorney.
Marriage automatically makes your spouse your primary next of kin. The only other way we make non-blood related people our next of kin is through adoption in which the child, in most cases, has no say. Wouldn't it be great if you could walk to your local city hall, pick up some paperwork, fill it out, pay a filing fee and take an oath to designate someone as your next of kin....without having the marry that person?
You would still have to choose carefully, it is afterall like you are adding someone to you family though not via romantic involvement, and of course there must be some way to dissolve the contract, just as folks who are married have the out of divorce. It would also be of benefit to those who are not close to their families of origin or whose relatives live far away or those who have outlived their spouses and families. And in the practical sense it saves the time of paperwork and the expense of paperwork in tracking down relatives.
It not only means that those we call family but who we are not related to can be seen as such in the eyes of the law, it also means everyone has the option to take care of those they love regardless of the form that love takes.