Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Student asks for legal benefits and recognition of same-sex marriage.

This is a student-written editorial, and my comments follow it in this purple font face.

According to Dayna K. Shah, there are 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law.  Since the United States government doesn’t allow lesbian and gay couples to marry, lesbian and gay couples are excluded from the benefits and advantages provided by these laws.  Recent data shows that at least 1 million children are being raised by same-sex couples in the United States.  These children are being disadvantaged because their parents don’t qualify for the same tax benefits as heterosexual couples.

First of all, eligibility for the earned income tax credit (EITC) is based in part upon the number of “qualifying” children in the taxpayer’s household.  The definition of qualifying child under this provision includes only a child who is the taxpayer’s (a) biological child or descendent; (b) stepchild of the taxpayer; or (c) adopted child.  Certain children of lesbian and gay couples are disadvantaged by this provision. For example, a gay or lesbian couple are jointly raising one partner’s biological child. The taxpayer works full-time and the child’s legal parent stays home to care for the child. The state in which the taxpayer resides does not permit them to adopt through second-parent adoption or to marry the partner and become the child’s step-parent. This working family is therefore ineligible for an adjustment of the EITC, and therefore has decreased the resources to devote to the child’s care.  The EITC covers single parents with children, but since with this couple the biological parent isn’t earning the household income, she can’t get any EITC.

Secondly, heads of household are eligible for an increased standard deduction that, among other things, provides taxpayers with increased funds to care for their dependents.  The “limitations” section of this provision explicitly denies the benefit of head-of-household status to taxpayers supporting non-biological, non-adopted children. Therefore, a gay or lesbian taxpayer who supports his or her partner’s child (and who is ineligible to adopt the child) has fewer post-tax dollars to support the child. This same exclusion also denies help to kin or close family friends who have informally adopted children by caring for them without any specific legal arrangement while the biological parents are absent or incapable. 

Lastly, taxpayers meeting income eligibility requirements are entitled to a child tax credit for qualifying children in their households. This provision limits the child tax credit to children who meet the relationship test set fourth in the earned income tax provisions. As set forth above, this does not include children of a taxpayer’s domestic partner if the children are not related to the taxpayer biologically or through adoption.

All three of these inequities have the effect of penalizing families who choose to have one parent in the work force and the other caring for the children full-time.  In addition, they disadvantage such couples and their children by limiting the choice of which parent will be a full-time caregiver.  Although similarly situated married couples may choose which parent will fulfill that role without consequence, lesbian and gay couples, as well as other unmarried couples, face negative tax consequences for the same decision.

My comments:

I’m all for continuing to restrict benefits to parents who are in some way officially “married” (in the sense that they have a legal commitment to each other).  The public have an interest in encouraging couples to enter into legal agreements of mutual support, as this reduces their dependence on public support and replaces public obligations with private mutual care.  But this editorial makes a good case that same-sex couples deserve the same incentives to establish long-term legal relationships, or at least receive the same benefits that different-sex couples enjoy. I notice that opposition to the "gay lifestyle" is usually mixed in with perceptions that persons in homosexual relationships tend to have more  difficulty sustaining long-term committed relationships. Until same-sex couples are allowed to aspire to marriage and try marriage, it's difficult to know if this perception has any basis in fact.  Even such heterosexual biases against homosexual couples have any grounding in statistical facts, this would still be a weak reason for denying people the same benefits and legal protections that heterosexual couples enjoy. Equal protection under the law and no establishment of a state religion, you know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a lot to say on this issue as it is quite near and dear to me, but I will simply say this...I have been with my honey for almost thirteen (13) years and am not legally able to marry her due to such bigotry and homophobia. There needs to be far more education than what is currently being offered to explicate and express the need for change. It is not fair that my daughter has to suffer many of the consequences of her two mothers not being able to indulge in the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples, many of which divorce more often than not. Love got my partner and I this far in our relationship and that same love should sustain us and make us just as worthy of legally marrying, sharing the same equal benefits as our heterosexual counterparts.