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When two people enter into a marriage, they enter a legally binding relationship as well. While state laws vary, a legal marriage usually requires both people to be the age of consent (18 in most states), get a license and have a ceremony (civil or religious) with witnesses, presided over by a sanctioned official. If the two people were married before to other people, the state must establish that the previous marriages no longer exist legally. Most states require a waiting period between the time the marriage license is issued and the marriage ceremony.

All states prohibit marriage between a person and a sibling, half sibling, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew. Some states that permit marriage among first cousins also require genetic counseling.

Benefits of a Legal Marriage

Being legally married allows rights and benefits that protect the parties involved, such as filing joint income tax returns, applying for Social Security and Medicare, and receiving medical and employment benefits.

Other Types of Marriage

Common-Law Marriage

A common-law marriage is recognized legally as a marriage without a ceremony or license. It is not simply as a result of two people living together for a number of years. If the marriage is established as common law, the same legal rights apply as in a regular marriage.

Same-Sex Unions

Same-sex marriage provides the same rights as opposite-sex marriage. Connecticut and Massachusetts currently are the only states that permit same-sex marriage.

Same-sex civil unions are similar to same-sex marriages but do not give partners all the rights a married couple has. Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont currently allow same-sex civil unions.

Same-sex domestic partnerships are similar to civil unions and exist in Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C. The benefits of a domestic partnership include:

  • Joining family insurance plans;
  • Taking sick or bereavement leave for your spouse;
  • Having visitation rights in hospitals and jails.

Last update: Jan 19, 2009

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