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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.

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.

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.

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

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