For Gay Couples, Love Comes With Added Cost
Sweeping statements about morality and religion populate the debate over same-sex marriage, while the financial consequences often go unaddressed. The financial impact on the Black community isn’t even an afterthought. But for some African-Americans, love is one of the biggest barriers to achieving wealth.
Marriage As A Contract
Many forget the financial safety net legal marriage provides. “There are roughly 1,100 benefits, rights, and protections conferred on married couples on the federal level. And hundreds more benefits, rights, and protections that married couples receive under state law,” attorney Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project director at Lambda Legal, a national organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and people with HIV, tells Black Enterprise.
Eight states currently allow civil unions or domestic partnerships. Another nine and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage. Twenty-nine states ban same-sex unions.
The government has never viewed marriage or divorce as the jurisdiction of religion, but as the forming and breaking of a legal contract. Under the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government does not recognize any state-issued marital contracts. Until DOMA is struck down, the progress made for gay couples at the state level has limited benefits. And the financial consequences trickle down to the simplest life decisions.
Want a buy a home for your family? Unlike heterosexual couples where a home is automatically passed on to the surviving spouse in the event of their partner’s demise, your partner will have to pay a gift tax if they were added on to your deed.
Want to start a family? Some health insurance policies don’t cover maternal care costs; even more don’t offer domestic partner benefits. States that don’t support same-sex unions won’t allow you to be put on the birth certificate of non-biological children born during your partnership. This will affect your ability to list the child as a dependent on your health insurance, make medical decisions for the child, or even enroll them in school.
Want to care for your sick partner? If you live in a state that doesn’t recognize your marriage, getting health insurance will be an obstacle. Some employers have special programs that offer health insurance to domestic partners, but those benefits are federally taxed as additional income.
Want to take advantage of your federal benefits? You will receive fewer social security benefits than partners in a heterosexual marriage. The federal government will not recognize your same-sex spouse or non-biological children. And your partner will not qualify to receive your social security benefits.
Want to take care of a loved one after your death? While traditional husbands and wives have unlimited transfer of assets, you and your partner must piece together financial and legal protections for your assets after your death.
Want to start a new career? State marriage laws will limit what job offers you can take. If an attractive job offer is located in a state with discriminatory legislation you could lose more than you would gain from the opportunity.
Same-sex partnerships are so financially cumbersome that firms are creating divisions that cater to the LGBT community. Wells Fargo even developed an Accredited Domestic Partner Advisor certification in 2010 that specializes in the unique challenges same-sex couples face in estate and financial planning.
Dollars and Sense
According to a Gallup special report on the LGBT population in the United States, 4.6% of African Americans publicly identify as LGBT. That means currently at least 1.9 million Blacks will never be able to reach their full financial potential.
If the obstacles posed to millions of individuals’ financial dreams doesn’t mean anything, consider that a 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office suggests that federally recognized gay marriage would reduce the budget deficit by about $450 million a year.
Maybe it’s time to stop viewing this issue in sweeping indictments. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking of our government as the purveyor of morality. Didn’t that ship sail a long time ago? Let’s look at this issue through a lens our government understands: the good old-fashioned American way of cash money.
Marriage is a legal structure that allows people to depend on each other, so they don’t have to depend on the government. And it doesn’t make much sense, or cents, to block the prosperity of a growing population of our country.
C. Cleveland covers professional development topics and entrepreneurial rebels who blaze their own career paths. She explores these stories and more on The Red Read, Twitter (@CleveOutLoud) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).