Saturday, November 13, 2010

When Is it Enough?

Yesterday My husband and I got a letter in the mail that reminded us that we live in a country that holds our relationship in contempt. It was a letter notifying us that as a same-sex couple, our health benefits were considered taxable income...

"Whats the big deal?", you might ask. "This has been going on forever." Well, the big deal is that in the same notice comes the bald admission that this tax does not apply to opposite sex couples. The explanatory pamphlet from health Service System of San Francisco puts it like this....if you can sift through the legalese: (emphasis mine)

Health coverage for you domestic partner, same sex spouse, and any children of that partner or spouse through a Health Service System (HSS) plan is typically a taxable benefit. Because the federal government does not recognize domestic partnership or same sex marriage for tax purposes, employer contributions to health premiums for an employee or retiree's domestic partner, and children of a domestic partner or same sex spouse, are treated as taxable(imputed) income. Moreover, employee premium contributions are taken post-tax. By comparison,  if an employee or retiree is married to a member of the opposite sex, no taxable imputed income results from and employer's contributions to an opposite sex spouse's health premium costs. Also, employee premium contributions for an opposite sex spouse are paid pre-tax.

There you have it in black and white...or in this case, full color glossy....If we were a heterosexual couple we would not be taxed on our health care benefits. Now, the point of this pamphlet was to make us aware of a tax break the federal government makes available to "qualifying relatives"...which includes domestic partners and same sex spouses, as a way to offset this gays only tax. That said...

let the my rant begin...

Over time, I've heard alot of arguments against same sex marriage. I've heard gay people claim that wanting to marry is copying an oppressive heterosexual institution...I have heard straight conservatives, in their "marriage is a one man one woman' argument make the absurd claim that gay men and women are not being harmed by excluding them from marriage...both points of view largely miss the practical ways in which legal marriage does protect same sex couples and their children...this tax leveled exclusively at domestic partners and same sex couples is one of those specific examples.

To be fair the pamphlet was sent by HSS to help us apply for the "Qualifying relative" tax break which I saw as a work around for the blatant inequity that gay couples pay to the federal government  just for being gay and fortunate enough to have health care insurance. HSS didn't have to do that. They could have left us on our own for figure that out. However, since they do business with the city and county of San Francisco, they made that information available and probably helped us avoid this particular tax penalty. This particular work around  serves as a stop-gap measure until DOMA can be repealed and the federal government can begin recognizing the legal marriages performed in several states.

...But does it want to?

I wish the readers of this post could have been with us last night when my husband opened that letter and see the utterly defeated look on his face. This man works hard everyday to provide for not only his family...but also the children of our niece who we are fostering. To receive a letter stating that he was now liable for additional taxes because our family is a same sex family just knocked the wind right out of him. Jay is my rock...when he hurts, I hurt. To see him absorb the fact of having to pay an undisclosed amount of money because we are gay( and at the time we wondered whether this may be retroactive) just stole all the joy from his eyes...and put us both in mind that the government we live under does not value us enough to grant us the right to marry....which some refer to as "special rights'....yet it has no problem dipping in our pockets for "special revenue".

I was furious...As it stands, the last tax season our tax preparer was kind enough to inform us that had we been a heterosexual couple we would have paid $5,000 less in federal taxes. That's money that could really be used right now.

Plus...haven't we just had a national debate about the difficulties of maintaining health care insurance?!! Have we not just established that getting good quality care is not an easy thing for many people to do, to the point where much of America is uninsured?!! Yet here we are adding additional taxes to it? Its insane! I can't fathom that someone in Washington thinks this is a good way to generate revenue when alot of people are struggling to pay their mortgages or juggling credit cards to pay for everyday bills. When I talk to friends who live in Britain or Canada and try to describe our health care system they just look at me with a sad shake of the head like they are talking to a condemned man in a third world country. They can't fathom that we don't take care of our citizens and I have to agree with them. If I'm already getting taxed out the wazoo then why do I have to be taxed again on services I have already earned? This is not free market economy...this is government disconnected from the realities of the people who work hard to make a living. And whats worse...if your gay, they care even less.

Think its all hyperbole? Making unfair and simplistic comments? Perhaps...but...

Ask gay soldiers separated from the military because of "Don't Ask Don't Tell". They are now being told that they will receive only half the money a soldier would normally receive upon separation to help the transition into civilian life. This is the focus of a class action lawsuit being filed by the ACLU on behalf of lesbian and gay soldiers.

It just pisses me off. Normally in my blog posts I try to be at a little fair and balanced even though I have a clear point of view. but at this point in time I can't help but feel angry. I feel like we have been sent a clear message from the government we all live under and who our soldiers give their lives for, that we don't count.

You can work your whole life in a dangerous job protecting the public as my husband does, but if your gay we don't honor your hard work and sacrifice. You can lay down your life in a time of war...but if we find our you're gay then your willingness to sacrifice is not counted. We live and work in a society that see's our contributions to it as being of lesser value...regardless of the pretty words that may be spoken from the White House podium. All those pretty speeches have not moved us a single step forward. With Democrats trying too hard to play fair because they don't feel the fires of discrimination under their own feet and Republicans actively stoking those fires, it begins to feel like our avenues for recourse are becoming few.

In closing my rant I would like to offer that there is a time for fairness a time for working within the system. The urge to fairness should never be far away. But there is also a time for our anger. If that we not so, there would have been no stonewall riots and where would we be today without that defining moment. If we never got angry would the government have done anything for HIV/AIDS when it became clear that it was killing gay men by the scores? If not for those moments when anger turned to activism, we would not be in the position we are now...we would not even have the public voice to express this anger.

Sometimes it seems as if we are so close to attaining our goals that it makes the practice of patience seem a necessary thing. If we just wait a little bit longer...if we just give this politician or that one more time. And wait we do...we give or time and money...we lobby, phone bank, and blog...and we wait to see if today is the day when it all gets set right. When will it be enough for us that we find that anger that drove us to stand up for ourselves? The president and congress have failed...the voters of America are scared sh*tless that something horrible comes from allowing us to be equal....the one option left is the courts and they are not a sure thing at all. What is our response when they fail? What will we have left? When will it be right and appropriate to take out anger back out onto the streets again to propel us into the next chapter of our growth as a community?

Our lives matter...our families matter...our sacrifices matter. Its time to stop accepting those who treat us as if they don't.

Untill next time dear readers....


  1. You know Bryan sometimes I think we as a community just don't get mad enough. We always try to make sure everyone likes us. At some point I think we need to just say the heck with trying to make everyone like us, we need to get collectively pissed off and start demanding some stuff instead of politely asking for it!

    Hugs to you and Jay

  2. I know this may be an ignorant question, but does the tax apply to you now that y'all are legally married? If so, what's the point of being married? It all seems so messed up. I am rooting for you guys Cali. Thanks for writing these posts. They really do motivate me to find a way to become more active despite te futility here in Alabama.

    I wish y'all the best, and have a great thanksgiving!

  3. Bryan,

    I understand your frustrations so much. It's not bad enough that we must be social and legal oppressed but they also do so financially. It was not joke in your last blog post when I referred to us as quickly becoming the apartheid state of the democratic world on gay rights.

    We all must redouble our efforts for equality. Sometimes our road and lives are just to unjust and change must happen. If not we are little more than a dirty caste in society.

    No one deserves that. We all deserve respect, dignity, and equality. If our leaders only held true our founders words maybe we would be better off.

    All men are created equal. Everyone should be secure in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And most importantly we are the people, all of us, and laws are extended to all.

    I wish I could offer more comfort. Please endure and be strong we will bring justice and equality. It must be payed for in pain and tears though. But know this you are not alone. We all stand together.


  4. My wife and I are in the same boat, we're legally married and I am on her health insurance. Fortunately we knew ahead of time that was going to be an issue but it still sucks. Oh and I believe the government will fight DOMA as long as they can because they LOVE the extra cash.

    Anthony - to your question, In CT if my wife and I were not legally married I couldn't be on her insurance at all. More importantly there are a wide variety of legal protections (in CT) that we are entitled to... just like every other married couple. But to answer your question, we got married for the same reason many heterosexual couples get married. We wanted to show our commitment to each other in a way that society understands and accepts. We wanted our relationship to be recognized for the loving committed relationship it is.

  5. Rant on, Bryan. Enough is enough. When justice is denied to one of us, no one is safe from injustice. The same people who profess to be so pious and "Christian" need to read more carefully the book they interpret so literally. Justice is at the core of its commandments, yet they are also the ones most willing to inflict injustice on everyone else, in the name of God.

    It's enough to make God cry.

  6. @Anthony

    The tax applies to us BECAUSE we are married. It would also apply to domestic partners. The problem is that California acknowledges our marriage as legal but the federal government does not....the tax is a federal tax. If DOMA were to be struck down then the federal government would have to acknowledge our marriage as legal and then taxes like this one would have to be stopped.

    But there are lots of other protections that civil partnerships and marriage gives to a same sex couple that far outweigh the few negatives(like this tax). Just the fact that I can be on Jays health insurance is great. and if one of us ever got sick enough to need hospitalisation then I would we would be able to be with each other and make important decisions for each other.

    While the rampant and blatent discrimination bothers me...and while I do feel its time that we rediscovered our activism...there are also alot of things to be thankfull for and its important to carry those in our minds as well.

  7. Interestingly my employer just started offering domestic partner health benefits. The system calls it a spouse.

    And I noticed they made no mention of the tax issue when they had the seminar about the new health plan. So it should be interesting.

  8. Hey, Bryan. More power to you! I have been paying that tax for 9 years now. Also very annoying thing is that the IRS requires we both file as single (a lie!), and California requires we prepare a mock joint federal return so we can (we MUST )file joint for Calif. For those who pay a preparer, that must be a significant additional expense (tax). I think since you don't have a job, you could qualify as a dependent.

    In any case, the "why marry" question might be more clear when a husband is very ill. It is much more clear to say 'spouse' or 'husband' than 'partner' or 'boyfriend' to the nurses and doctors. Unfortunately, I am learning that myself right now.

  9. My partner has to work two jobs just to pay for health insurance. friend Jane at work who in on marriage number three.. her new husband is on our health plan at work. Dave and I have been together for TWENTY years..she has been with this guy for ..maybe..two years?
    Don't you just love equality???

  10. The more I read the more I am wondering if the USA is the land of the free, the freedom of choice and human rights for ALL their citizens, I grew up with the notion the USA was the country we looked up to that everyone was free to live their lives without persecution and that people could live without fear, but since read your blogs and studying for my research report I have discovered that is not true, there is so much hate towards minorities, Ok NZ is not perfect but as far as I can see we dont seem to have all these issues, we are slowly making inroads towards our Maori population, given we as a country is only about 200 yrs old next to other countries which can go back centuries. Or maybe I just havent taken much notice before.
    I feel for you and the LGBT community, I hope that you and Jay never give up fighting for what you believe in.