Over and over again, people against same-sex marriage equality state that marriage is a religious institution, and because their religion disagrees with homosexuality, gay marriage should not be legal.
While marriage used to be a religious institution, and to many, it is still spiritual in nature, a completely secular kind of marriage now exists. A marriage between two people in the U.S. may be sacred to them, but it also offers them a host of benefits that otherwise they would not have access to. There are many benefits offered at a state level, and so if you cannot marry in your own state, you cannot have these benefits.
However, even if you happen to live in a state that allows gay marriage, you still are missing out. There are 1,138 federal benefits, rights and protections allotted to married couples. Heterosexual couples receive all these benefits, while same-sex couples, regardless of the legality of marriage within their state, do not. That discrimation is incredibly harmful.
For example, if two people of the same sex are married, and one of them dies, even if their marriage was recognized in the state they lived in, The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, prevents the widow/widower from collecting Social Security survivor benefits. Federal tax benefits, which often benefit children as well as the married couple, are denied to same-sex couples. Employee benefits, such as health-care, are denied to same-sex spouses of federal employees. U.S. immigration law does not permit permanent residents to petition for same-sex partners to immigrate.
This is unjust. Denying a group of people government benefits because of their sexual orientation is a gross violation of their civil rights.
Religious institutions have every right to refuse to marry gay couples. However, the government does not have the right to refuse benefits to gay couples while giving them to straight couples. The U.S. professes a separation of church and state. If the government is involved in marriage, and the government operates separately from religion, how can marriage be a religious institution?
We must stop using religion to justify discrimination.