In Case You Were Wondering: The Financial Penalties For Being Unmarried

November 20, 2010, 3:49 pm

Stigma or Pride?  Shall the Congress or the Courts Decide?

Despite the fact that I would include myself in the category of people who are utterly unmoved by the romance of gay marriage (except when I am softened by pictures of people who are moved by it), I occasionally feel pissed off about structural discrimination that awards bonuses to people who can and do marry.

Today I opened a letter from TIAA-CREF that contains an “update” to my “original contract…which states that same-sex marriages aren’t recognized under current federal tax law” because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Passed in 1996, DOMA defines marriage as a legal contract that can only be entered into by one man and one woman, and was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court last July.  It was signed into law by William Jefferson Clinton, for which (along with welfare reform and NAFTA) he will roast in the hell that hypocrites go to forever, regardless of how many other good works they perform.

The point of this form is that, should I predecease her, my partner will inherit my retirement account as if she were a stranger or a casual friend:  this goes for other federal inheritance laws designed to protect the common property of married folk.  Were I to perish tomorrow, we would have lived together in a committed fashion for over a quarter century, a state in which even the most troubled and fractious heterosexual couple might claim to be wed under common law.  What are the other financial penalties for being partnered but unmarried in the eyes of the federal government?

  • If you are gay-married under state law, you get to file two separate tax returns, which costs more.
  • If you have the good luck to have domestic partner benefits, or live in a state where you can gay-marry, you have to pay federal taxes on the amount of money kicked in by the university on behalf of your spouse as if it were income.
  • Even if you are gay-married, you cannot create a MERA (an instrument that permits an individual to reserve pre-tax dollars for the many medical expenses not covered by insurance) for both you and your partner, only yourself.
  • If your gay spouse does not have an income, you cannot count hir as a dependent and get a tax deduction.
  • Your gay spouse does not have access to any federal pension to which s/he might otherwise be entitled were s/he an opposite-sex spouse.

So all you straight married people out there who do get these things?  You are getting a big, fat, frakking bonus, and I would be interested in knowing what it is you do for our Republic to deserve it.  Or let me know what anyone in a state-sanctioned marriage would do to deserve all of these tax breaks:  if DOMA were rescinded tomorrow, and Partner and I continued living as we do but with a marriage license from the state of Connecticut, why would that federal magic trick entitle us to the extra $$?

Although I am quite sure that everyone who has a TIAA-CREF account received this letter, the vast majority of my heterosexual colleagues will throw it in the round file without a thought. To them, these financial privileges are invisible — many, in fact, believe that they deserve them, even though they can’t precisely say why when asked. For me, however, this letter is a particularly keen reminder of our  current state of sexual apartheid, and I think I will post it on my office door.

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