Prev Next

For Richer or Poorer: Being Gay is Expensive


When we decided to do a week (well, two weeks really… more still to come) on money and marriage, Christina offered to write a post on why being gay and married is a huge financial burden, and I jumped at it. But the post she wrote is so much more important than that. We talk a lot about marriage equality in broad terms: we look at wedding pictures; we talk about emotional and political battles. But the real reason the fight for marriage equality is important is cut and dry: rights. People who love each other and are choosing to build a family together shouldn’t have to jump through legal hoops that the rest of us don’t. They shouldn’t have to pay more money. They shouldn’t have to adopt their own children. But until we change things, they have to. So read Christina’s choice and then go do something. Make a donation. Have a conversation and work to change someone’s mind. Vote.For Richer or Poorer: Being Gay is Expensive | A Practical Wedding

When Meg put out the call for submissions for “Richer or Poorer” week, I immediately thought about what I lovingly refer to as “The Gay Tax.” One of the many ways the Defense of Marriage Act is evil is that it adds extra cost to same-sex married couples in ways you wouldn’t expect. Hell, I didn’t expect them until I started dealing with the paperwork. It’s easy for people to see that states have passed same-sex marriage or that Prop 8 has been ruled unconstitutional and think that all the important work is done. It’s not, and until we repeal DOMA, it won’t be.

Emotionally speaking, getting married was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I wouldn’t change a thing about our wedding and maybe only a few parts of the process.

Practically, very little has changed.

There are 1,183 rights that come from the federal government’s institution of marriage. Since same-sex couples are denied access to that institution, we have to try to work around that as best we can. It’s piecemeal and confusing and there’s always something you realize you’ve missed after it’s too late. It’s impossible to figure out exactly what paperwork you need (nowhere online has a good, definitive list, probably for liability concerns) and even once you have everything notarized, filed and copied, there is also a nagging concern you’ve missed something important.

Also, it’s expensive.

Setting up the legal paperwork through a lawyer can run you several thousand dollars. Many legal services will do it for cheaper, but you can still expect to spend a few hundred bucks. And even if we had every piece of paperwork notarized and filed in the proper fashion, I’m still a little terrified that if something were to happen, I would be denied access to my wife in a time of need. Because it happens. (Warning: Watching that video will probably make you cry and/or throw things.)

We’re luckier than some; my employer offers health care to same sex couples at the same premium as straight couples. However, health insurance provided to an unmarried (by federal government standards) dependent is considered taxable income, so an additional amount equivalent to that health care cost is added to my paycheck when computing taxes.

For Richer or Poorer: Being Gay is Expensive | A Practical Wedding

There is also constant, unending frustration trying to figure out what benefits my partner and I are entitled to. Part of any new job is HR paperwork, and I just started a new one last month. But every time I fill out a form, I have to ask—for the purposes of this form, am I married? What about this form? How many deductions should I take? The District of Columbia passed same-sex marriage two years ago, but I feel a bit like a unicorn—everyone acts like they’ve never seen my situation and no one knows how to answer any of my questions. The image above is a screenshot of the benefits website when I tried to enroll my wife. After, I asked HR if I should fill out domestic partnership affidavits or give them a copy of our marriage certificate for forms. They didn’t know the answer. After a while, I’ve started to resent having to ask the question.

We had a difficult financial year last year and probably would have been owed a refund had we been able to file joint federal taxes. But we’re not federally married, so separate filings it is, along with the penalties. (And we’re not the only ones.) I don’t want to even think about what a mess buying a house will be; from figuring out how to list ourselves on FHA loans to deducting interest on our separate tax returns to names on the deed and property taxes, that’s going to be a nightmare.

For Richer or Poorer: Being Gay is Expensive | A Practical Wedding

Heaven help us when we want to have children. Since we are two ladies, one of us can choose to have them biologically so we don’t have to worry about surrogate or adoption costs (or an adoption agency that is willing to work with gay couples), but even then, that costs money. If I go to a hospital or birth center over the DC line, I can’t have my wife’s name on the birth certificate. Just to make extra sure, we’ll still probably go through second parent adoption with the non-birth mother and create wills, both of which will be costly. It’s hard not to resent that a guy just has to have an orgasm to get full parental rights, and we get the legal and financial runaround. If situations don’t change by the time our imaginary baby wants to apply to college, the FAFSA will be a migraine inducing.

The worst part of all of this is that I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m fortunate to work in the District of Columbia, which legalized gay marriage in 2010 and required employers to provide domestic partnership benefits well before that. Assuming there is no referendum this November (and that’s a big assumption), I’ll be lucky enough to live in a state (Maryland) that recognizes my marriage. My wife and I are US citizens and therefore our marriage doesn’t live under the threat of deportation. And however much I whine about how much extra I pay in taxes, it seems patently unfair that an accident of geography could have serious repercussions for any loving couple in terms of their ability to visit their loved ones in their dying hours, have access to shared finances or be able to make funeral arrangements. Finances are a small part of the whole when it comes to marriage, but when it comes to the repercussions of legalizing same-sex marriage on the federal level, it’s a pretty big part.

Photos by: Photo from our legal ceremony in D.C. from our personal collection, top photo by Sarah Ewing from the APW The Bitch in the House meet up

More in Recent Posts Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • http://www.queerskiesahead.com TheQueerBird

    This is so depressing. When I was filling out my financial aid forms for school, I kept clicking “married,” then unchecking that and checking “single.” Dear FAFSA, please check one: When you say married, do you mean _had a wedding, _my state recognizes my marriage, _my country recognizes my marriage? And would you mind indicating that distinction on the bajillion forms I have to fill out?

    Luckily, being “single” helps with financial aid. Now excuse me while I go fill out five tax forms: our joint state, dummy state for me, dummy state for my wife, and separate federal forms for each of us. Woo hoo.

    • http://www.queerskiesahead.com TheQueerBird

      PS Thanks for writing about this. I think a lot of people just don’t know about this, especially people who live in states with marriage equality. They think that we have it here, so the fight is over. Thanks for spreading the word a little more widely.

      • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

        That was part of what prompted this – I live in Maryland which just passed gay marriage and a lot of acquaintances were like ‘and done!’ But no, not done, especially since no marriages can be performed until January 2013, before which there will almost certainly be a referendum (which is too close to call at this point – scary!).

        • Alyssa

          Gah. The “annnd done!” attitude almost does just as much damage as not caring at all. It’s never thought with bad intentions, but we can’t even say that about civil rights for other races or women, why would we be able to say that about gay rights?

        • http://www.weddingfortwo.blogspot.com Ellie

          Anyone who thinks for a second that there won’t be a referendum is kidding themselves. Anyone who thinks this vote will be anything but too close to call until election day is kidding themselves. Most of my friends are going, “I think it’ll [gay marriage] pass”, complacently, and I just keep saying, “don’t say that until you’ve knocked on doors.” So I just wanted to say, thanks for writing and Maryland needs to get this done. I do estate planning work for same sex couples and it’s such a nightmare. I also had one [terminally ill] client whose husband is going to be denied his entire pension because of DOMA. Literally, he is going to lose what is likely a million dollars because their marriage isn’t federally recognized and the wrong spouse got cancer. DOMA totally sucks and thank you for speaking up.

  • http://www.alittlebiteofeverything.com Ainhoa @ALittleBite

    Wonderful post. And you’re right, the link you gave me made me cry. I live in Spain, where gay marriage was legalized with full rights in 2005. However, the current Government threatened to change this when they were running their campaign just a few months ago… however, they haven’t said anything since. Hopefully we won’t let them.

  • http://m00se.wordpress.com/ m00se

    Thanks so much for writing this. It is hard not to feel equally resentful about happy occasions when part of a same-sex couple, even when you live in a place where your marriage is recognized locally. On the upside, the whole home buying while gay thing is not as difficult or weird as other things are – just be sure you’ve added the Joint Tenancy with the Right of Survivorship documentation when you buy. If you’re straight and married, no surprise, this type of coverage is included.

    • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

      That’s actually really good to know – we’re thinking about buying soon, though we may have to table it for a year. It’s kind of astonishing how little you know about what you need until you need it.

      • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

        Home buying is particularly difficult in that respect. Googling tends to return the answer “Consult a realtor or lawyer” when in reality all probably need to get started is an explanation…

      • http://somewhatbookish.wordpress.com Carrie

        For a good overview of the home buying process, I recommend Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home. I know Montgomery County Public Library has copies, Christina, because that’s where I checked it out from when I read it several years ago. I definitely helped me to know what folks were talking about and I didn’t feel so lost or overwhelmed.

    • p.

      My husband and I just bought a first home and I was surprised to discover that although the lender needed copies (and more copies) of our financial documents and proof of insurance, they never asked for a copy of our marriage certificate or for any documentation about our marital status.

      • J

        My (now) husband and I bought a home years before we were married (and not even citizens of the same country!). The only tricky part was the first time homebuyer benefit since we weren’t both US citizens, but that was worked out for us too, and we just took half. It’s really not that difficult to do any of the house-related stuff as an unmarried straight couple, so I would hope the same is true for gay couples.

  • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PA

    You make a really good point, one that I admit (shame-facedly) I would not have thought of: legalizing marriage equality state by state is still leaving some MAJOR holes in the quest for full marriage equality.

    Part of what I struggle with is that I don’t know how to help – I vote, my parents’ church supports marriage equality (very vocally), I write letters to representatives. But at the end of the day, I never know how much I’m doing to help, especially because my friends are all on the same page with this (so I’m not influencing any of my them).

    I have no doubt that we’re moving, inexorably, towards marriage equality, but that doesn’t help people NOW.

    • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

      I know, it’s so infuriating. Change in this country is such a slow, uncertain thing. I don’t know what I can do to help most days aside from the things you mention. I do like Courage Campaign for their work on LGBT rights.

      • Karen

        As someone who lives in North Carolina, I beseech you to give to http://www.equalitync.org or http://www.protectncfamilies.org. They are both working hard to defeat a constitutional amendment that is on the ballot on May 8. There is also phone banking that you can do from a distance. When you go to their websites they have concrete things you can do.

        Any of the Minnesota folks want to chime in? I know there’s a constitutional amendment on the ballot there, too.

        Isn’t it insane that we are voting on people’s RIGHTS??? I swear the civil rights bills would have never passed if they were put to a vote of the people.

    • meg

      State by state gay marriage is close to meaningless, other than keeping the cause visable. In some cases it can screw you over twice (you can’t get insurance coverage through work because of DOMA, you’re not eligible for state benefits because you’re married in the state). I know couples who live in New York who are not bothering to get legally married, because it’s a worthless piece of paper for them. In sum, NONE OF IT MATTERS until we repeal DOMA. It’s all just sentiment till then.

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        Not exactly — in California it doesn’t matter much, practically, because the domestic partnership provides all the state-level benefits. But in Iowa and other states that don’t have a civil union law, marriage confers some big-time state-level benefits, most notably around parenting. In states with gay marriage or civil unions, second-parent adoption is simple, and it’s often possible to get the non-gestational parent on the birth certificate right away. In states without marriage equality or a very strong civil union law, you’re at the mercy of the judge. Conservative judge? NO LEGAL PROTECTION FOR YOU. Marriage equality fixes that, DOMA or no.

        • meg

          But this isn’t always true. In New York, we had friends just go through second parent adoption (the child was born before the law change, and they chose not to get married because it actually didn’t grant them very many useful rights, which was interesting) and pay for it. And the health care problem I was describing took place in California, with a partner who was dying, and is still being denied benefits (even though they married in the legal window). So while we may have a civil union law, it doesn’t matter. DOMA is still screwing couples over so badly in this state that they are dying.

          • Karen

            Heartbreaking.

          • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

            I absolutely agree that DOMA sucks and really reduces the benefits of marriage, but I stand by the claim that state-level marriage equality does improve things.

            Health insurance: my understanding(and I’m not a lawyer though I follow this stuff pretty closely for obvious personal reasons) is that most companies that offer spousal benefits in California have to offer benefits to same-sex legally married couples. There’s actually a law requiring this (the California Insurance Equality Act). In equality states like Iowa, insurers who offer spousal benefits have to offer them to same-sex couples. The exceptions are companies and insurers that aren’t regulated by state law, because they’re large enough to self-insure under ERISA or because they’re part of the federal government. (Gill v. OPM is challenging the federal government’s refusal to offer benefits.)

            For some couples, marriage equality doesn’t affect health insurance — their employer is self-funded, or the federal government, or already offers partner benefits voluntarily. For others, it does.

            Second-parent adoptions: you still have to do them in equality states, but only because non-equality states don’t have to recognize the birth certificate but do have to recognize a court order assigning parentage. In California, New York, Iowa, etc, the non-gestational parent can be on the birth certificate, which should be enough if you never leave the state or interact with the federal government. Also, in equality states the presumption is that the non-gestational parent will be able to adopt. That’s not the case in other states, so there’s more judicial discretion.

            Marriage equality reduces the discretion of bigoted individuals to discriminate against us — even though it doesn’t eliminate it, even though we’re stuck with extra costs. I REALLY want DOMA repealed, but as long as we’re waiting it’s a real change for individual states to enact marriage equality.

            p.s. have I mentioned how much I appreciate the way APW deals with queer stuff? because I do. So, so much.

      • http://somewhatbookish.wordpress.com Carrie

        I disagree with the notion that my state-sanctioned marriage is “close to meaningless” or “just sentiment”. I agree that repeal of DOMA is the ultimate goal and that those thousand-plus federal benefits to marriage are what we should be fighting for. BUT there are real benefits to being legally married for me and my wife. My employer has to cover my wife on our health insurance because she is my legal spouse (and that coverage is not taxed on the state level because we are married, which saves us money.) Because we are legally married, my wife was able to take my name in the “normal” way, rather than having the cost and burden to do a name change through the courts. Because we are legally married, my wife was on our daughter’s birth certificate from birth. All of these are real, tangible benefits to being legally married. Yes, it is critical that ALL marriages bs federally recognized, but I don’t think it takes anything away from that fight to say that a legal, state-sanctioned marriage has meaning beyond the sentimental.

        • meg

          Which is great, but as I stated above, that’s not universal. It doesn’t happen in every state or in every situation. People are still denied benefits even if they are legally married in a state (some employers can and do use DOMA as the reason to deny). And more. So while, sure, of course, we should be fighting this out state by state, I think it’s HYPER IMPORTANT to remind people over and over again that even couples in states where gay marriage is recognized are hurting in a ton of different ways… and so much of it is still case by case. It depends on your employer, or your job, or your situation, or the particular state’s laws. And while it’s GREAT that you and your wife have rights in your state, it’s not happening everywhere… not even in all states where marriage is recognized. And so many people don’t realize that, at all. They think if you’re good in one state, you’re good.

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    Thank you for writing about this. It makes me want to cry- or hit my head against a wall, depending on the day. My wife and I are in the midst of filing our taxes together for the first time– except we can’t actually file them ‘together’, since we live in Arkansas, where gay marriage is not legal. We own a two businesses together, but since our state doesn’t recognize our marriage we can’t file the businesses on our normal returns as a partnership, we’re having to file six separate returns (business 1, business 2, my state, her state, my federal, her federal). And, of course, we don’t have any of the tax benefits that would come from having a legally recognized marriage.

    Things are changing, and most days I feel hopeful and amazed at how things are going. Some days, though, I don’t.

    • ambi

      Helen, I live in Arkansas, and most days I feel like we’re going backwards :(

      • lady brett

        i prefer to think of arkansas as stuttering forward. we are making progress, it’s just not smooth, and sometimes it’s messy and hard as hell.

  • Elemjay

    For those of you in the UK, the government has just started a public consultation on introducing same sex marriage (as opposed to civil partnerships which have been an option for a number of years). There’s been a lot in the media about religious organisations campaigning against same sex marriage, so if you support it, have a look at the link and consider adding your views

    http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/

    • http://dylanandsarah.com Sarah T

      Thanks for that! I didn’t know about it, but now I’ve filled it out.

    • http://meditatingontherain.wordpress.com Aine

      I just filled it out too! I didn’t know there was a proposal up, all of the coverage has ONLY been about the churches who are anti-gay marriage that it just seemed like they decided to spout off about it recently on their own.

      It’s a bit weirdly set up though; for most of the options, there’s a question for “If you are LGBT, what do you think of this part?” and then general questions that can be answered by anyone. But for the last part, on whether to allow trans* people to get their Gender Recognition Certificate without having to get a divorce/end their civil partnership, there are only two questions and they are set up for trans* people or their partners only to answer. I think its bull**** that someone would have to get a divorce to change their gender (especially because there are legal ramifications to this- any benefits, etc that the couple is getting would end and then they’d have to requalify for things after they remarried/repartnered and you can’t backdate things to the original ceremony). I made a note of this on the “Any other comments?” section, I hope it helps.

  • http://blindirishpirate.blogspot.com Blind Irish Pirate

    How blindly convenient it is to be so privileged in my straightness. It’s really sad, just the huge scope of this… thank you for sharing, because this is a topic that I imagine many people aren’t aware of.

  • http://isalmostthere.blogspot.com/ Erin R

    Another fun perk — if you are gay married and have only one earner, technically you should pay a gift tax on half of anything going into your joint checking account, over something like $10k a year. Because of how you’re not federally married, so sharing your economics is a gift, I guess. I don’t know, I’m not a tax lawyer – I’ve just heard friends complain about it. In practice I don’t think anyone actually does this, but it’s still another thing to hang over your head as you tuck all your notorized legal documents into that manilla folder.

    With respect to benefits, some employers are starting to pick up the government’s slack. It’s referred to as the “gay gross-up.” The employer basically grosses up your actual salary to account for the extra taxes you have to pay on your partner’s benefits. I only know about this in the law firm world but I bet there are some other employers that do it as well. If you feel activisty at work, it’s something you can ask them to do — especially if you don’t need it for yourself.

    Here’s a link describing what the firms are doing: http://abovethelaw.com/2011/08/biglaw-perk-watch-the-gay-gross-up-is-all-the-rage/

    • Alyssa

      “gay gross-up”

      An awesome thing, but what a terrible name. :-)

      • meg

        THAT. IS. AWESOME.

    • Not Sarah

      Some software companies do this as well. Google has been since 2010!
      http://abovethelaw.com/2010/07/biglaw-perk-watch-googles-gay-gross-up/

      My employer doesn’t, but unlike other employers in my state, they actually offer domestic partner health coverage (post-tax, but still something).

    • http://www.amandasummerlin.com Amanda

      The gift tax is something I’ve never heard of… that sounds like it has to be wrong (at least I hope it is). In the eleven years that my partner and I have been together, there’s been some years where I supported her (when she went back to college for example), and in those years I claimed her as a dependent. Take that Uncle Sam.

      • http://Thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        Nope, totally real. Serious problem for couples where one partner wants to stay home with kids, for example. Though also totally confusing, because the dependent thing is also legit. Gay taxes are way more confusing than straight taxes.

  • ambi

    Thank you so much for writing this!!! As a straight woman, I’ve long been in favor of fully legalizing gay marriage just because it is the right things to do. But until now, I didn’t really UNDERSTAND. Wow, this post really opened my eyes and made me a much stronger advocate. Thank you!

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

      I think that it’s hard to understand without having lived it, or at least that’s how I feel. And Christina has really, really put things in a way that it’s very easy and immediate to connect with.

      I can see the laws and what happens to my friends and get angry …. but I’ve never been in the position of having to adopt my own child or not being able to file my taxes with my future husband. Or to be barred from being at your spouses’ bedside in a hospital?

      As you say, Ambi, this post has made me want to be a stronger advocate.

  • Jessica

    Sigh. I guess it’s because the way I was raised, but I still have a hard time understanding the big deal. Two people love each other, they want to get married and have a family. Who cares if they’re the same gender? I WENT to this wedding and I can assure you that you’ve never seen two people more meant for each other. So why the opposition? I love the quote that says “Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get gay married”. I don’t care for broccoli. So I don’t eat it. I haven’t waged a congressional campaign against it. Sorry Meigh and Christina, I truly hope things get easier for you and for other couples like you that just want the same rights many of us take for granted.

  • MDBethann

    I live in Maryland too and as a straight woman about to be married, am very proud of my state in being progressive with rights when so many other state legislatures are taking away rights (or at least trying to). I sincerely hope that IF there is a referendum, gay marriage will be the ultimate victor. I just wish that those who are so outspoken against gay marriage would realize that it is NO THREAT to their own straight marriage. People who want a loving family should be allowed to make one. Divorce is the only thing that ends marriages, period.

    One of the concerns you raised in your post was about home buying. My FH and I bought our home 2 years ago before we became engaged. For legal protection since we weren’t married, we worked with an attorney at the title agency to draw up a document saying how we were each giving the other our share of the property if something happened to one of us and it said how the property could be sold/handled if we split. Not being married when we purchased the home actually helped us financially – I owned a condo already but FH was a first time home buyer, so he qualified for the $8K tax break that existed in 2010. If we had been married, he wouldn’t have qualified because then both of us would need to be first time home buyers. At tax time, we’ve filed as singles since we aren’t married and we each get to claim half of the mortgage interest since we’re both paying it equally. Granted, we that will change once we’re married, but buying property jointly but not married isn’t quite as scary as you might think and given that a lot of straight couples do it, I doubt you’ll get funny looks about the paperwork – they already do it frequently.

  • Karen

    Many years ago my twin brother and his wife got married — a week after they were both arrested for assault on each other. Because they have opposite genitals (which I believe is what it comes down to), they are allowed to get married and I am not. My sister married someone in the apartment building she lived in after knowing him for about a week. The only litmus test for getting a marriage license is that you have opposite genitals. Yes, I know that’s a crude statement but what other criteria is there?

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Age or parental consent, the fee, and the ability to appear sane while you fill out the paperwork.

      • ambi

        This whole frustration really applies to adoption as well. Coming from a state that very recently had laws on the books prohibiting gay parents from adopting (recently overturned by the courts), it always struck me as strange that any human being who is physically able to reproduce can do so freely but when an individual wants to become an adoptive parent and give a child a loving home, their lives get scrutinized beyond belief. Between home studies and court oversight and the huge expense, adoption has very high hurdles to jump through, even for straight parents. I honestly can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to go through that process as a gay parent. And while I don’t think it is a very solid or rational argument, it is frustrating on a gut level that biological parents who neglect or abuse their kids are given so much help and so many chances to reassert their parental rights and work towards reunificaiton, but a truely loving gay parent who would provide an amazing home for a child is often rejected.

        Just a note: I am not arguing to limit the rights of biological parents, just to expand the opportunities for adoptive parents (especially adoptive gay parents, who have such a difficult path right now).

        • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

          honestly, not that difficult. that is, the whole process is complicated in ways that you spelled out. but as for being gay? they’re desperate (desperate) for foster homes (what we’re doing); no one i’ve met who actually works in the system cares about the gay in the least (granted, my impression is that the system is based very, very much on individual discretion, which means that crummy people could probably make it very difficult…).

          that said, second parent adoptions are still not recognized here – i’m not trying to paint too rosy a picture. i mean, not being able to be legal parent to your own child! ugh.

  • lady brett

    a note on the house-buying: make sure you do everything exactly how you want in the initial paperwork. no one told us how this junk works (and we kind of rushed in), so now if we were to add my wife’s name to the deed at this point it would qualify as a taxable gift of half the worth of the house. yay.

    as much as all of that stuff is a pain in the ass (and i’m not keen that we had to spend $300 on name changes), i must admit that as a married queer, i am really, really ambivalent about gay marriage.

    it is, as you said, about rights. it is awful that just by virtue of what gender you marry, you can be denied 1183 rights (plus whatever your state might add to that). but, really, it is awful that you don’t get those rights if your most significant relationship is non-romantic either. or if you have a three-adult family.

    i feel strongly that the government shouldn’t be in the business of marriage in the first place. the government should be in the business of property rights – and when marriage accounted for the vast preponderance of joint property ownership it made a lot of sense to have legal marriage as a method of streamlining that process. but that is outdated, and the government needs to acknowledge that many, many people have joint property (especially when you include child custody in that!) who are not and will not be married.

    we still need a method of streamlining the process, but it needs to be separate from the social institution of marriage – a truly *civil* union. and i should be able to get a civil union with anybody who consents to get one with me – no sex required.

    so, that doesn’t sound very ambivalent, i know. where that comes in is that i know my opinion above is so far from happening that i am willing to concede that less unfair (gay and straight marriage) is better than more unfair (only straight marriage). it’s just that i would prefer fair.

    • ambi

      My boyfriend has long held the belief that government shouldn’t be in the business of marraige at all. Everyone who wants to have the governmental rights (property, tax, etc.) of a partnership should be able to get a legal civil union, straight or gay, romantic or not. Then, if people also want a religious union, they can do that through a church or however they choose to do it, but it would have absolutely no legal significance. Everyone legally gets a civil union with the same rights, and anyone who wants to call themselves married can do so.

      It just seems crazy that our rights, through the government, are so intertwined with religion. I mean, in what other context can a priest or rabbi bestow legal rights and changes someone’s legal status? It just seems fundamentally unconstitutional that something as significant as the legal rights that come along with marraige are tied up with very narrow religious views that only represent a segment of our society. In most other realms, we recognize that one person should not be able to force his or her religous views on anyone else. But when it comes to gay marraige, religion and government are still definitely in bed together.

      • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

        That’s the way it is in Argentina. Getting married in church (any church) has no more legal significance that exchanging vows by the sea, or in the middle of the mountains. You are only married if you pass by the civil registry and sign the papers after hearing a few articles from the civil code read out loud. Same for all.

    • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

      I actually agree with you on just about all of this. It’s really frustrating that the civil institution of marriage and the socio-religious institution of marriage have the same names because they’re completely different things and should be dealt with as such. Which is why I get rage-y every time someone brings religious values into the argument.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      To all of this I’ll add my usual line: The religious institutions can fix this. Religious ministers can stop being government workers for this one, huge thing, just like they’re not government workers for anything else, and make congregants get a government worker to sign their government papers, rather than signing them themselves. It’d be good for civil discourse, and it’d be good for religious instruction.

      It wouldn’t be great for religious couples, who’d all be forced to have “courthouse weddings” in addition to religious weddings, but millions of couples in Europe do it, and even a couple hours with bureaucrats sure seems an appropriate hazing to force you to consider all the legal ramifications of marriage.

    • Stella

      I am an unmarried hetero feminist cohabiting with a dude, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been saying this for years.

      I think marriage is unfairly privileged, both legally and socially, and should be disestablished.

      Have “next of kin” forms that you can file with your county clerk, allowing you to name whomever you want for various rights (medical decisions, inheritance, etc.) – you could name different people for different rights, or do a blanket form if you are in a traditional conjugal relationship / only have one next of kin. This would also allow non-romantically-partnered people to name relatives, friends, etc. as their dependent for health insurance and other purposes, and would allow platonic partnerships the same property inheritance rights as married people.

      Of course, this will never happen, because the people who own the government have a vested interest in encouraging conventional, nuclear families. Think about it. Follow the money.

      Marriage is a form of privilege, and I refuse to participate in it on principle. Instead of broadening it to include a slightly smaller circle of worthy people to privilege (with those 1,000+ rights, tax breaks, etc.), we should do away with it altogether. $0.02

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        I am totally, absolutely with you on getting rid of marriage. Separable ‘next of kin’ rights are the way to go. (Although I’m not sure what you’re saying about a vested financial interest in nuclear families, so I’m not with you on that.)

        Problem: not participating in marriage on principle is ALSO a privilege. You’re saying you can live without those tax breaks, you don’t need the automatic parenting rights, you can pay the extra cost to get you both health insurance, etc. The problem with privilege is that you can’t just opt out.

        Other problem: the social privilege of marriage makes the legal privilege harder to get rid of. Not happening. You want to hold out til we get ‘next of kin’ forms, you’re going to be waiting forever.

        • ambi

          I just think it is hilarious that what we are talking about (getting rid of government-sanctioned marraige altogether) is exactly the “attack on marraige” that the conservative right wing has been screaming about for so long regarding gay marraige. Gay marraige isn’t an attack on marraige – getting rid of marraige is! (An attack that I happen to agree with). Gay marraige does the opposite – it builds up marraige, adds to it, increases it.

    • Kristen

      At the risk of being attacked because I hold different views on the subject of gay marriage than most of you, my husband and I are still huge proponents of the government getting out of the business of marriage altogether. As my husband says, people have been getting married forever. Why should the government give an economic incentive to those who marry, when really, no incentive is necessary. Why should straight married couples get a tax break in the first place? Couples should get married through their church (or other venue if they are non-religious), and then head down to the courthouse to get their legal status thing that recognizes their relationship in the eyes of the law. I also believe that it’s so important that pastors and churches stay separate, so that they can also exercise their rights to NOT marry a couple with which their strongly held beliefs do not agree with.

  • http://www.amandasummerlin.com Amanda

    Omg, this post! I’ve been ranting about the gay tax for years. There’s so many little things. My partner and I bought a house together a few years ago. Because we live in a state that has no interest in everrrr being gay friendly, buying a house is a process that can go either way for a gay couple depending on how your real estate agents and attorneys feel about it. Because we needed to live in a part of the state that’s even more conservative (!), the attorneys and real estate agents flatly refused to add the paperwork and do the transaction in both our names… saying it wasn’t legal… which is crap. You can buy a house jointly with anyone you want to. I’ve done it before. So that leaves it up to us to get it dealt with after the sale ($$). And writing wills is never any guarantee like you might think. Especially if your genetic family doesn’t approve of your relationship and you live in a bible belt state. Wills can be contested, the rights of inheritance conferred by marriage cannot. The frustrating truth is that it doesn’t matter how much money we spend on wills and documents and powers of attorney if there’s a possibility that someone can find a judge who is homophobic. THAT’S why DOMA needs to die and the federal government needs to step in and provide equal rights for all citizens.

    • ambi

      This makes me think of the post-civil rights cases where real estate agents, attorneys, etc. were finally held accountable for refusing to sell African Americans houses in white neighborhoods. There were laws on the books prohibiting descrimination based on race, but until the law actually caught up with the daily reality of how that descriminiation was happening, it was meaningless.

      I know lawyers have ethics boards they have to answer to, and I assume there is some kind of ethical oversight for realtors (?). To me, this sounds like something that should be reported.

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        Yeah, but there aren’t any non-discrimination laws on the books in those states, so what the lawyers and realtors are doing is not illegal and may not even be against the code of ethics for that state’s bar. The California bar tells its members not to ‘unlawfully discriminate’, but what if it’s lawful? (Also even racial discrimination still happens, all the time, just more subtly.)

        One of the really frustrating things about being queer is that you’re constantly at risk of being screwed over by some bigoted individual — a judge, a realtor, a teacher, a hospital administrator — and in many cases there is NOTHING to be done. Except change the law.

        • ambi

          My point is just that, if what they wanted done was legal (two people buying a house together, regardless of the nature of their relationship), and the attorney refused to do the necessary work to make it happen, that should be reported. Either that attorney was refusing to do the legal work because he personally disagrees with their relationship, or he was incompetent enough to actually think that two unmarried people can’t buy a home together. Either way, he should not have taken money and continued the representation. He isn’t acting as your attorney if he refuses to fight for what you want and are legally entitled to. It would be one thing if the couple wanted to get married and it wasn’t a legal option in that state. But if two people can buy a home together, and this guy just wouldn’t do it for a gay couple, that just seems really unethical to me.

          • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

            It may seem unethical to you (and me), but the bar in a conservative state isn’t going to do anything about it. Which is my point: when you don’t have legal protections, you’re at the mercy of people’s kindness and willingness to help you voluntarily.

          • http://www.amandasummerlin.com Amanda

            Ambi, you’re right, it probably should have been reported at the time. But my first gut response to your post was, “What’s the point? We were lucky to even get the house. Nothing will come of it. It was five years ago. Blah blah..” The ironic thing is, I’m always calling out my gay friends on this.. this defeatist attitude. I notice that when I tell things like this to my straight friends (speaking very generally here), their first response often is, “This must be reported, it’s not fair!” But my gay friends are often dismissive and usually sure it’s a waste of time to pursue action. I’ve often wondered how prevalent are attitudes of helplessness within minority communities, and how do they ultimately affect those communities? (One last note, the attorney was a woman, as was our real estate agent. Not that it matters, but I didn’t want to leave misinformation out there…. men are cool… women are cool… certain people just suck.)

        • ElisabethJoanne

          California has the Unruh Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based upon, among other things, religion and sexual orientation. So a California attorney discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation would be subject to discipline. However, such discipline can only happen after the discriminated-against person has sued the lawyer and won.

          California also requires lawyers to undergo continuing education regarding “ending discrimination in the practice of law.”

          Nothing, however, requires competency in the particular issues affecting same-sex couples. I work in professional liability defense, so I wouldn’t know how to even begin listing those issues, from a lawyer’s perspective. On the particular issue of joint purchase of real estate, yes, it would seem that any real estate lawyer should be able to help with that. That, of course, does not mean that any lawyer should be able to help with that.

      • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

        There is actually no federal law on the books saying that employers, etc… cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation. Some states have those laws, but not all of them (Virginia recently reversed theirs under Bob McDonnell). They’ve been trying to pass ENDA for years without it actually happening. (There is a state by state chart in that link that is uber-depressing)

        • ambi

          Amanda, I shouldn’t have assumed the lawyer was a man. Ooops! Clearly, I have my own gender-based biases to overcome! Thanks for pointing that out.

          And I definitely wasn’t trying to say you should have done anything differently.

          I get what everyone is saying about how being at the mercy of bigotted people when you have no legal protection from discrimination is the whole problem.

          My point was actually more towards the fact that lawyers can’t ethically take your money and represent you if they refuse to perform the services that you are legally entitled to. This is true in other settings as well – If I took someone’s money to represent them in a divorce, but my personal beliefs said that divorce is a sin, I couldn’t ethically refuse to perform those legal services just because I don’t believe in it. I should give them their retainer fee back and end the representation or do the work and pursue the legal outcome that they are entitled to. I am probably naive to think this way, but as an attorney I feel like any state bar in the country would reprimand an attorney for taking money and continueing legal representation while refusing to perform the requested legal services.

          Amanda, I find your point about how straight and gay friends tend to react differently. I am sure a lot of this comes down to the fact that, as a straight person, I am privileged to no have to face this kind of thing and therefore immediately outraged by it.

          I do think it is important to fight these battles on what is essentially the front line – the daily interactions with doctors, hospital administrators, insurance representatives, lawyers, realtors, teachers and daycare workers, etc. But, of course, it really sucks that someone like you, who is just trying to live your life, is thrust into the position of having to fight for these rights at all.

          • http://www.amandasummerlin.com Amanda

            Ambi, I think you just helped me have an epiphany! And I understand the point you’re trying to make. I wish more people were like you, because it’s ok to disagree with someone, but it’s not ok to force them to agree with you.

  • Pingback: Being Gay is Expensive: An amazing post on A Practical Wedding | | A Vote & A VowA Vote & A Vow()

  • http://cinderellaandtheprincess.blogspot.com Emily

    Because we’re gay, we had to pay for a second parent adoption to make sure I’d be honored as the parent of our babies even though I’m already on their birth certificates. Sigh.

    and the taxes. Oh the taxes. We lived in two states and I worked in 3 in 2011. Two of those states honor gay couples, so I still haven’t filed because I don’t think I’m doing our “fake” taxes right. sigh.

  • katieprue

    As a Kansan, it is good to be reminded that while so many states are finally making changes (because ours unfortunately sure as hell won’t be there for a long time), it is not over. I definitely have a tendency to see just the positive side and not think about the dirty little details like the paperwork and how these things impact every.single.day. It is super silly, but I love filling out forms and I hate to think that there are so many who don’t get to have that, “YAY! Checking the married box!” moment. It’s something small, but still exciting for me! I just wish more people could have that instead of, “married… or not?” Because DUH, you are. So I don’t really have anything thoughtful to add, but I am grateful to Christina and APW for rustling up the tough conversations.

  • christa

    The hospital visitation rights thing seems most puzzling to me. I once ended up badly hurt and unconscious in a hospital far away from home. The only person I knew in the area was my cousin. She made a number of medical decisions when I first arrived while I wasn’t conscious despite having basically no legal relationship- she’s married to my mothers brothers son. The hospitals choices to accept her input made a great deal of sense- why shouldn’t someone who has a small sense of my preferences make decisions when I am completely incapacitated. Eventually, she handed the reins over to my boyfriend when he turned up- again, no legal relationship whatsoever. I wasn’t conscious enough to acknowledge him, but he still got to make medical decisions, and the doctors went to talk to him about how I was doing when I came out of surgery. Technically speaking this was a major HIPPA violation given that he wasn’t next of kin in any legal way and I hadn’t given anyone permission to share my medical state with him. In my case, it was clearly the sensible choice, but it makes the law seem even more absurd.

    Why is it that hospitals regularly allow visitations and decisions made by people who have no legal standing whatsoever (or evidence to prove that a legal relationship exists) and reject the rights of people who have done everything they can to prove legal commitment?

    • http://www.amandasummerlin.com Amanda

      Christa, you make an excellent point. The decisions that were made for you by your cousin and your boyfriend, while technically a HIPPA violation, were accepted by the hospital workers because they ultimately approved of the nature of those relationships. If you had been there with your same sex partner and the hospital workers decided they didn’t approve of your relationship, then they could conveniently decide to follow the law to the letter. And all over the news these days, we hear about how legislators want to change laws to allow doctors and pharmacists and other medical professionals to deny their services to anyone who they don’t approve of…. oh, and they don’t even have to tell you that they’re doing it. Things are going backwards, and this is the reason you hear so may gay people saying that if you allow them to deny our rights, who’s to say you’re not next?

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        This is EXACTLY what I was talking about above. Queer people get to make medical decisions for each other, set up legal agreements, etc — but only as long as the gatekeepers for those decisions approve of our relationships. The whole point of the law is to make it so we’re not dependent on individual goodwill.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      On the medical-decisions issue, I know in California, there is no law telling hospitals which family member or friend is in charge of an incapacitated patient’s medical care, unless the patient has a Power of Attorney for Healthcare (highly recommended). It’s up to the hospital to feel the situation out, which can be hard on hospital workers, too, in addition to patients and families.

      The Uniform Healthcare Decisions Act, which has been adopted in a handful of states (including California, but…), and sets up a standard form and procedure for Advanced Directives for Healthcare and Powers of Attorney for Healthcare, does have a statutory hierarchy that goes like we’d expect: power of attorney for healthcare, spouse, adult parent, adult child, sibling, etc. California did not adopt this part of the Uniform Act.

      I imagine other states, but obviously not all, have similar official decision-maker hierarchies.

  • Stephanie

    Please keep fighting the good fight! You articulate your argument so well! I wish others could understand that even when you grant the right for all to marry, the discrimination does not end. And thank you for sharing that story of the poor family. It breaks my heart, but only when we show people how cruel some of our laws are will we change things. Bless you!

  • Mari

    I’m always so frustrated when I read stories like this. I mean, really — is it going to be detrimental to the heterosexual people/couples/families in America to just extend these rights flat out to ALL citizens? Why are we waiting? How is it that allowing “married” to simply mean “married” by all local, state, and federal definitions would hurt anyone? As a married straight woman, I’m pretty confident that allowing my gay friends to benefit in the same ways I do is not going to hurt my marriage, my life, nor my access to my own benefits. It all just makes no sense to me. Come on America, let’s get on it.

    • Stella

      All citizens, eh?

      Do you mean expanding the privileges married people currently get to all people, married or not? That I can get behind. Otherwise, meh.

  • http://www.embracerelease.com aly

    Christina, thanks for putting into words what I’m tired of trying and usually too emotional to explain.

    And APW, I LOVE you.

    • Karen

      It gets exhausting trying to explain this. I get emotional about it, too. When it’s really personal (sometimes I want to shout “This is my life on the line, not some abstract concept!”) it’s hard to have a rational conversation.

      Sometimes I’m afraid of people seeing me as defensive and angry. And yes, I’m angry and I’m tired of apologizing for it. I sometimes imagine all the good that could happen in the world if we didn’t have to work so hard defending ourselves. Exhausting.

    • ambi

      From a straight person who supports gay marraige, but didn’t really understand these issues until reading this post . . . please keep trying to explain it to us. Some people are supportive, some people definitely are not, but a whole lot of us really have no idea about these problems until someone actually explains them. It really really sucks that you are put in the position of having to explain, over and over. But please do know that it makes a difference. I know that when it is your life on the line, it can be infuriating that there are people like me out there that just had no idea that gay couples faced these problems. Clearly we should know. The whole country should know, and then maybe things would change. But when you are exhausted and angry and emotional about having to explain this stuff yet again, keep in mind that you are opening that person’s eyes up to something that may be genuinely new to them. You may be creating an ally and an advocate for your rights. We all recognize that Christina has done an amazing thing through this post, but try to keep in mind that you are doing the same thing each time you have to explain these things.

      • Karen

        Thank you for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

      • http://www.embracerelease.com aly

        Ambi,
        I’ll keep doing my part to consciousness-raise but sometimes our straight allies are even more effective in changing hearts and minds than we can be. It’s often true that people are less willing to listen to the oppressed group than they are to listen to someone who looks like them speaking about the oppression of another group. That’s why we need straight folks to rise up with us on this. Does that make sense?

        • ambi

          Absolutely!!! That is so true. I realize now that I wanted to offer encouragement, but it was flawwed. I was saying that you should recognize that you are doing the same thing as Christina has done in this amazing post every time you explain these issues – but the same applies to me, too! Wow, very eye-opening, Aly. Thank you!

          For all of us who were suddenly educated and enlightened by Christina’s post, we can no longer sit around blissfully oblivious to these problems. I think it is more than fair to say that it is now our responsibility to talk about these things, educate people, and push for equality. Not just in political settings, but in everyday life. At church, at work, with our families.

  • Jenna

    My employer started offering domestic partner benefits for this calendar year, at the same premium you would pay for a spouse, which I initially thought was great (especially being in the south). In fact, I eagerly looked into adding my fiance to my benefits plans until we get married, as his student insurance leaves much to be desired. It was during that research that I learned of imputed income…that I would have to pay taxes on the value of the benefit my company is providing for my domestic partner, in addition to the insurance premiums not being tax-deductible. It’s a step in the right direction, but it just highlighted to me how far we still need to go for full equality. I suspect that a lot of people aren’t aware of many of the hurdles you discuss unless they happened to bump up against them or know someone who has. Thanks for your post…we need to keep discussing this!

    • Stella

      What about access to health care for people who aren’t in a conjugal relationship?

      This problem is much bigger than LGBT marriage rights, especially in regards to access to health care.

      • Karen

        I agree with this. When my sister wasn’t working I was frustrated that I couldn’t “share” my insurance with her. What difference does it make to insurance companies who I share it with, as long as we pay the premiums? It’s outrageous.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com sera

    I knew it was far from equal, but I had no idea the extent of it. This is horrible.

  • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

    This is a subject that makes so very ANGRY. I come from Argentina, a country that legalized same sex marriage in 2010 (we don’t call it same-sex marriage, we call it “marriage”, because rights are the same for all, and the law was named “matrimonio igualitario” or “equal marriage”) and one of the things that became evident with the law was how many other laws had to be modified accordingly. We have a national civil code, so many things were covered automatically, but others, such as name of couple and of children (which lastname? which one first? etc) had to be regulated and they were. Before that law, the situation was absolutely precarious and I am happy and proud it was changed.
    I hope in the US and in every other country in the World the recognition of a universal right to marry will be granted as a federal right. Civil rights should not depend on the political orientation of anyone and they definitely should not depend of the majority of the population liking them or not (as I heard on Bill Maher a few weeks ago, ugh).

  • http://takingabraindump.com jo

    Hey, one note of positive: we bought our house when unmarried, and everyone involved said “legally, we can’t ask and it doesn’t matter.” Which I thought was really, really awesome. I know it won’t help with the after stuff, but it made the purchasing process really positive. We got everything in both of our names to protect us both. We were the ONLY people in the paper who bought a house with both of our names.

  • http://twitter.com/irisira irisira

    In New York, quite a few employers offer domestic partner benefits, however to give equal protection, the also offer this option to hetero couples (requiring the same proofs, of course), which I think is actually a good thing – there are a lot of couples who are financially responsible for one another but have chosen not to get married (yet?) for a laundry list of reasons.

    Anyway, working in benefits, a part of me enjoys explaining the tax ramifications to these couples who elect this benefit, and explaining *why* these ramifications are in place. Most heteros have no idea how privileged they are (myself included).

  • JoAnna

    Oooh here’s a fun hidden one… because the taxation process is more complicated for same-sex couples, usually you get to pay a higher premium if you use a tax accountant.

    In California I am pretty sure we had to provide a copy of our domestic partnership to get our loan set up for buying our home. Good news is that everything else was pretty much boiler plate.

    Oh, another fun/negative only one person was able to be listed as the primary on the house loan so my social ended up winning the race. This year I have to claim the house even though I ended up earning less, AND my health benefits are provided (and fully paid for) by her employer she definitely is getting the short end of the stick this year. We have to change it before the tax documentation is finalized next year if it is needed to properly jostle the asset. :D

  • http://penn.typepad.com Leah

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been struggling with some conservative family members about this issue. We are filing taxes right now, and I was shocked at how much more we get back now that we’re married. I didn’t even realize this.

    Know that you’ve got lots of folks out there who support you. It is my hope that most of the bigots are older folks who eventually won’t be able to vote against fairness and equality.

  • KD

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve always known that things are not equal but your post opened my eyes to so many areas of the inequality that I was unaware of. It really sparked a good conversation between me and my husband and I was finally able to get him to see that he can’t just look at the issue as a religious one. Thank you for your posting, I haven’t been able to stop talking about it.

  • http://www.4realequalityweddings.com emily

    as a gay married woman, sometimes it’s good for even me to read a post like this. you get so used to jumping through hoops and taking the extra step that it just becomes your new norm. all your (gay) friends are doing it, so it must just be what we’re supposed to do. of course we had to pay an extra court fee to change our names, of course we’ll have to go through second parent adoptions, of course we have to file taxes seperately and then you read something like this and remember, oh yeah. it shouldn’t be like this for me. or for my friends.

  • ambi

    Last night, while my boyfriend watched the NCAA tournament, I muted the television and proceeded to read this post aloud to him, including ALL THE COMMENTS. Pretty soon, he had completely lost interest in basketball and we were having a really great discussion about (1) why in the hell smart, educated progressive straight people (like us) don’t already know this stuff, and (2) what we can do to help.

    So, for all of us who have said that this post makes us want to become much stronger advocates for fully equal marraige, well, you can start by reading this post aloud to anyone who will hold still long enough to listen!

  • Gloria

    i think everyone should send this post to their congressman, and maybe they’ll pay some damn attention. SERIOUSLY.

  • AmyluvsMB

    I’m not sure how I stumbled across APW, but now that my girlfriend and I are talking about getting married I’m soo happy to have found these LGBTQ stories. The difficulties (monetary and other) of figuring out and planning a cememony and life ever-after are scaring the daylights out of me. I’m not sure how we’re going to work it out yet, since the low rumblings of our marriage conversation haven’t reached the surface yet (last week I was asked to find out my ring size, so I’m guessing the formal conversation is coming soon)… but the reality and the misfortune of living in a state that does not allow gay marriage… it’s going to hurt. I think I’ll just focus on the excitement of celebrating life with my sweetheart and deal with the politics of it all as life demands it. Thanks for drawing attention to equality.