I got sucker punched last Tuesday night and I’m just now getting up off the mat.
We knew it was possible that the supporters of Prop 8 might succeed, but Scarlett and I got married anyway – on August 5, our 16th anniversary. We donated our time and money, especially in the last month before the election, to help ensure that this hateful piece of legislation would not pass. I worked as a poll inspector on Election Day, cheering as my fellow citizens and I said yes to the new opportunities presented by the election of our first black president.
Then I came home, turned on the television, and discovered that I was officially, legally, constitutionally a second-class citizen. That my relationship is a threat to “real” marriages and therefore the citizens of California, and by extension the nation, needed to be protected. From me. I wanted to throw up.
In case you are unclear about what’s at stake, below are just four of the 1,138 federal laws that pertain to married couples but are not allowed for domestic partners or civil unions. The language comes from FactCheck.org, a non-partisan website of the Annenberg Foundation:
- Taxes. Couples in a civil union may file a joint state tax return, but they must file federal tax returns as single persons. This may be advantageous to some couples, not so for others. One advantage for married couples is the ability to transfer assets and wealth without incurring tax penalties. Partners in a civil union aren’t permitted to do that, and thus may be liable for estate and gift taxes on such transfers.
- Health insurance. The state-federal divide is even more complicated in this arena. In the wake of the Massachusetts high court ruling, the group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders put together a guide to spousal health care benefits. GLAD’s document is Massachusetts-specific but provides insight into how health insurance laws would apply to those in a civil union in other states. In general, GLAD says, it comes down to what’s governed by state law and what’s subject to federal oversight. If a private employer’s health plans are subject to Massachusetts state insurance laws, benefits must be extended to a same-sex spouse. If the health plan is governed by federal law, the employer can choose whether or not to extend such benefits.
- Social Security survivor benefits. If a spouse or divorced spouse dies, the survivor may have a right to Social Security payments based on the earnings of the married couple, rather than only the survivor’s earnings. Same-sex couples are not eligible for such benefits.
- Portable Unions. Since civil unions are only legal in certain states, they also can’t be taken across state lines. If a couple gets married in Vermont, they can reasonably expect to still be married if they move to California; the same is not true for same-sex unions. While New Jersey law specifies that the state will recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships performed elsewhere, this is not true for all states that allow some form of same-sex partnership. And if civil partners move to a state that disallows all same-sex unions, they may find themselves with no legal standing whatsoever as a couple.
This is not, nor has it ever been, about what churches can or must sanction, what schools can or must teach their students, or any of the other lies that have been around since before I was in college and Anita Bryant was the face of homophobia in Florida. This is simply a call to recognize, once and for all, that separate but equal is inherently untenable in a country founded on the premise of justice for all, and that the obligation of an independent judiciary is to protect the rights of the minority from the vagaries of the majority.
As for Prop 8, there is plenty of finger pointing and blame to go around, and plenty of people to do both. I chose to do neither. Looking backward does not help us to move forward and rancor is a waste of time. Let the courts do their work then we’ll know what our work must be. This is far from over.
Your support in this is no small matter to me, to us, and to our kids. All we want are the same rights that you enjoy, or could if you aren’t married now, but chose to later: the assurance that my property and material goods will go where I designate when I die; the ability to go home to Spokane or Portland to visit our families without wondering if we’re no longer married when we leave Oakland; the chance to be by each other’s side at the end of life without anyone telling us we can’t; and the right to inherit each other’s Social Security. Which of these rights would you be willing to do without?
Last night, Keith Olbermann devoted his “Special Comment” to this debate; I hope you’ll take a moment to watch.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVUecPhQPqY
Thanks for reading.