Monday, May 23, 2005

The REAL Defense of Marriage Act

Courtesy of Gina Trapani

1,049 federal rights depend on marital status

What the privilege of marriage buys you.

After being in a romantic partnership for almost eight years, after living together for four years, after jointly purchasing property, sharing bills and income, after having a ceremony during which we publicly declared our commitment to one another in front of all our friends and family, Terra and I are still denied 1,049 federal rights automatically granted to heterosexual, married couples.

Some of those rights include:

Hospital Visitation Rights

Married couples have the automatic right to visit each other in the hospital and make medical decisions. Same sex couples can be denied the right to visit a sick or injured partner in the hospital.

Terra and I are registered as domestic partners in New York City, which means we could visit one another in a hospital within the five boroughs. However, if we took a car trip across the bridge to New Jersey and got into an accident, we're screwed.

Health insurance

Many public and private employers provide medical coverage to the legal spouses of their employees, but most employers do not provide coverage to the same-sex partners of their employees. LGBT employees who do receive health coverage for their same-sex partners must pay federal income taxes on the value of the insurance. Same-sex couples cannot even buy a family health insurance policy on the open market.

Terra's employer does not include unmarried partners in their health coverage. As a result, since I'm self-employed, I pay about $350 a month for health insurance. A friend called this the "lesbian tax."

Spousal Privilege

Spousal privilege, granted to married couples, is the right of a person to refuse to testify against their spouse in the court of law.

That means if Terra was sued, I could be called on to testify against her. And every email, phonecall, letter, IM and conversation between us would not be protected by spousal privilege, and could be entered into evidence.

Inheritance rights

When a married person's spouse dies, the survivor can automatically inherit a substantial share from the deceased spouse's estate regardless of whether a will exists. Without marriage, a same-sex partner has no automatic right to inherit.

This means Terra and I have to write wills to guarantee either of us inherits from the other if one of us dies. How many people do you know under thirty who have a will?

Family leave
Married workers in many workplaces are legally entitled to unpaid leave from their jobs to care for an ill spouse but workers with same-sex partners have no right to family leave.


After the death of a worker, most pension plans pay survivor benefits only to a legal spouse of the participant - so surviving same-sex partners get no pension support for their surviving partners. Any pension dies with the worker.

Nursing homes

Married couples have a legal right to live together in nursing homes. An unmarried and elderly same-sex couple does not have the right to spend their final days together in a nursing home.

Home protection

Laws protect married seniors from being forced to sell their homes to pay high nursing-home bills; seniors in same-sex relationships have no such protection. A non-married partner can be forced to sell his or her own house to repay a state lien for nursing home care. A non-married partner who lives in the home but does not own it could even be forced from the home to pay nursing home costs.

Retirement savings

While a married person can roll over a deceased spouse's 401(k) or IRA funds into an IRA without paying taxes, surviving partners in same-sex relationships must withdraw the entire amount, pay income taxes on it and also lose the tax deferral benefits of these accounts.


Estate taxes. A spouse who dies may leave an unlimited amount of property to the surviving spouse without paying any state or federal estate taxes. Without the benefit of marriage, any amount of property over the federal or state exclusion amounts is taxed.

Income tax.

Every year, Terra and I are forced to file our taxes separately, as "single" people, ineligible for the tax benefits afforded to married couples.

Social Security benefits

Married people receive Social Security payments upon the death of a spouse. Despite paying payroll taxes, surviving partners in same-sex relationships receive no Social Security survivor benefits resulting in an average annual income loss of $5,528 upon the death of a partner.


And this is just the start. The US Government's General Accounting Office issued a complete list of the
1,049 laws involving marital status

Some other relevant bits:

:: George W. Bush proposed a Constitutional Amendment which would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman only.
:: John Kerry feels that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, but does not support the amendment. Kerry thinks it should be up to the states to decide.
:: Tying the Knot is an excellent documentary on marriage and how the inability to marry affects same-sex couples.
The ever-excellent Wikipedia has a section on Same-sex marriage in the United States.
:: Rosie O'Donnell became a proponent of gay marriage after her partner Kelli Carpenter was denied spousal privilege and had to testify against Rosie in court.


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