Debunking the "1,400 Rights and Benefits" Canard


One of the ongoing reporting memes that amuses me in covering marriage-related news is the ever-changing number of "rights and benefits" that married couples supposedly enjoy.

Take, for instance, this paragraph in the Middletown Journal (Ohio):

"Roger Conner, owner of Flowers by Roger in Middletown for the last 37 years, said gay men and women, if they want, should “have the opportunity” to get married. Married couples have more than 1,400 rights and benefits that same-gender couples are denied, according to a federal tally. Conner mentioned three: next-of-kin status for hospital visits and medical decisions and tax returns."

1,400? I've seen numbers as high as 1,700 and as low as 1,100. So maybe Mr. Conner thought it would be safest to pick a number halfway between the two.

Problem is, all of these numbers are suspect, as Politifact Rhode Island found out when they looked into this claim:

"Given the number of times the 1,100 number has been tossed around, we expected to see a specific analysis of each law cited, or at least some indication of what "right" was at stake.

Instead, we were surprised to discover that the GAO had simply done a search of the U.S. Code to identify laws that use words or word fragments like "marr" (for marriage), "spouse," "widow" or "survivor.""

In other words, the only way a number as large as 1,100 (let alone 1,700) would be to use it in the phrase "marriage and related words are mentioned this many times."

But of course, that's not a very effective figure to point out so instead we are treated to literally hundreds of news reports claiming that marriage confers over a thousand "rights and benefits" (sometimes you see the adjective "responsibilities") without anyone really stopping to fact-check the claim.

Moreover, long before Politifact took a look at this question recently, the institute for Marriage and Public Policy investigated these types of claims back in 2004 and found them wanting. Obviously, most individuals pushing gay marriage didn't get the memo.

Finally, in states that do allow full civil unions with all the rights/benefits/responsibilities, etc. of marriage, that is still unacceptable to activists bent on redefining marriage.

So maybe it's time to drop the 1,000+ rights and benefits canard and get back to debating marriage.