Equal Means Equal

It just happens that several items in my news feeds this morning relate to a comment on a previous post.

Why should my insurance rates go up because the company now has to include a new group of people? If you care to explain to me why you and your partner can’t do a will? Why can’t you will all of your worldly possessions to him? Why can’t you give him power of attorney in the event that you fall ill or have an accident? Why you can’t have in your will that you want your children to go to him in case something happens to you? By the way my husband and I have all these things in place because it is the smart thing to do. That way no matter anyone else says it is written so people will have no questions as to what I wanted. Just wondering.

Well. Where to begin

First of all, I could write a long detailed post about the rights and protections gay & lesbian couples are denied, based on not being able to legally marry, but somebody has already done a good job of that.

Some of those rights include:

Hospital Visitation Rights
Married couples have the automatic right to visit each other in the hospital and make medical decisions. Same sex couples can be denied the right to visit a sick or injured partner in the hospital.

Terra and I are registered as domestic partners in New York City, which means we could visit one another in a hospital within the five boroughs. However, if we took a car trip across the bridge to New Jersey and got into an accident, we’re screwed.

Health insurance
Many public and private employers provide medical coverage to the legal spouses of their employees, but most employers do not provide coverage to the same-sex partners of their employees. LGBT employees who do receive health coverage for their same-sex partners must pay federal income taxes on the value of the insurance. Same-sex couples cannot even buy a family health insurance policy on the open market.

Terra’s employer does not include unmarried partners in their health coverage. As a result, since I’m self-employed, I pay about $350 a month for health insurance. A friend called this the "lesbian tax."

Spousal Privilege
Spousal privilege, granted to married couples, is the right of a person to refuse to testify against their spouse in the court of law.

That means if Terra was sued, I could be called on to testify against her. And every email, phonecall, letter, IM and conversation between us would not be protected by spousal privilege, and could be entered into evidence.

Inheritance rights
When a married person’s spouse dies, the survivor can automatically inherit a substantial share from the deceased spouse’s estate regardless of whether a will exists. Without marriage, a same-sex partner has no automatic right to inherit.

This means Terra and I have to write wills to guarantee either of us inherits from the other if one of us dies. How many people do you know under thirty who have a will?

Family leave
Married workers in many workplaces are legally entitled to unpaid leave from their jobs to care for an ill spouse but workers with same-sex partners have no right to family leave.

Pensions
After the death of a worker, most pension plans pay survivor benefits only to a legal spouse of the participant – so surviving same-sex partners get no pension support for their surviving partners. Any pension dies with the worker.

Nursing homes
Married couples have a legal right to live together in nursing homes. An unmarried and elderly same-sex couple does not have the right to spend their final days together in a nursing home.

Home protection
Laws protect married seniors from being forced to sell their homes to pay high nursing-home bills; seniors in same-sex relationships have no such protection. A non-married partner can be forced to sell his or her own house to repay a state lien for nursing home care. A non-married partner who lives in the home but does not own it could even be forced from the home to pay nursing home costs.

Retirement savings
While a married person can roll over a deceased spouse’s 401(k) or IRA funds into an IRA without paying taxes, surviving partners in same-sex relationships must withdraw the entire amount, pay income taxes on it and also lose the tax deferral benefits of these accounts.

Taxes
Estate taxes. A spouse who dies may leave an unlimited amount of property to the surviving spouse without paying any state or federal estate taxes. Without the benefit of marriage, any amount of property over the federal or state exclusion amounts is taxed.

Income tax. Every year, Terra and I are forced to file our taxes separately, as "single" people, ineligible for the tax benefits afforded to married couples.

Social Security benefits
Married people receive Social Security payments upon the death of a spouse. Despite paying payroll taxes, surviving partners in same-sex relationships receive no Social Security survivor benefits resulting in an average annual income loss of $5,528 upon the death of a partner.

And the government chipped into. The GAO reported 1,049 rights and protections based on marital status.

For the record, my husband and I have wills. We had our adoption lawyer draw up every legal document we could to give our relationship to each other some legal protections. (We are fortunate to live in a state where we could adopt jointly, so both of us are our son’s legal parents.) We had medical powers of attorney drawn up, so that we could have the right to see one another if either is in the hospital, and make medical decisions for one another if either of us is incapacitated by disease, accident, or other conditions.

Add them all up, and we’re talking 2 or 3 out of 1,049. And even those are shakey. Even with our wills, whichever of us is the surviving partner will have to pay taxes on inheritance that wouldn’t be required if we were able to marry. As it stands, the state considers us legal strangers to each other.

And even a medical power of attorney isn’t guaranteed to be recognized. There’s the example of the gay couple who was kept apart while one of them was dying in a Baltimore hospital, even though they had their papers with them. Married couples seldom need more than the rings on their finger and the titles that go along with them. The two men I mentioned above never got to say goodbye. There are cased like Laurel Hester and her partner, or Rene Price and Betty Jordan.

And the 2 or 3 out of 1,049 that we’ve managed to scrape together are in jeopardy in some places. States like Virginia are attempting to outlaw even those agreements. Laws like the anti-gay adoption law in Oklahoma could invalidate gay adoptions in other states. So if we were traveling through one of them and an accident or other occurrence meant a trip to the hospital or dealing with state officials, our legal relationship to our son might not exist in that state.

Meanwhile, Michigan is still attempting to deny gays health care. The attorney general there is trying to stop cities and counties from giving health insurance to domestic partners. In Colorado, where a Senate panel backed a domestic partnership bill that would give some rights and protections to gay & lesbian couples, there’s a movement to essentially ban domestic partnerships. There’s even a bill in House of Representatives to give gay & lesbian couples the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as other couples who pay into Social Security (see the quote above for why that’s significance). My guess is that it will go nowhere given the current make-up of that body.

What this is all about is equality. Having the same rights and protections, for having assumed the same responsibilities. My family’s needs are no different from your family’s needs. We need no less support to stay afloat than you do. And, yes, a lot of the above comes back to money, but you know as well as I do that it takes money to keep a family afloat. That’s especially true when one member of that family is sick or daying. Those supports exist to help keep families afloat in those times because to some degree we recognize that the well-being of families contributes to the well being of our communities and our soceity.

Both your son and mine will grow up one day, and continue to carry on long after we’re gone. Whatever else may be said about us, we will both have given that much. Neither your son nor mine has less of a need for a strong, healthy family than the other. Neither of our families has less of a need than the other for the myriad ways in which our society’s supports families, especially in times of need.

Equal means equal. Our needs are equal. Our contribution is equal. We should have equal rights and protections for assuming equal responsibilities in forming and raising families. Which leads me back to this earlier question.

During election time I vote my conscience. I vote for what would be best for MY FAMILY. I vote for laws that I think would be morally correct. Would you have me vote for things that I don’t believe in just because it would make life better for you. Or am I to look out for my family and then help others.

If what you want is to discriminate against people, or support discrimination against a group of people, and have them simply accept it, you’re simply asking too much.

If you are saying that my family and I should be discriminated against — that we should be legally "less than" and treated as such — exactly what kind of response do you expect from us?

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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