Op-Ed, 594 words

The Gay Tax

Marriage equality is about civil rights — and tax justice.


As the Supreme Court considers two cases that could lead to unprecedented rulings on the right to marriage equality, I’ve been paying close attention. For me, the national conversation about this civil right hits especially close to home because I’m the daughter of two strong and courageous women.

People always ask what it’s like growing up with two moms, and I always answer the same way. Instantly defensive, I say that growing up with two moms isn’t different at all. I was lucky to have two loving parents and their parenting — not their gender — is what made the biggest difference in my upbringing.

And I mean it. But the truth is, it’s also different — the differences are just harder to talk about. Having two moms means that people question my sexuality and my brother’s sexuality. It means that people question the way I was raised. It means that people feel justified in openly discussing their opinions about my personal life. It means having to consciously decide in every new group whether to cautiously mention “my moms” or to safely and cowardly stick with “my parents.” It means hiding part of my identity.

And it strains my family’s finances.

paltow-krulwich-gaytax-See-ming Lee

See-ming Lee/Flickr

Since the Supreme Court announced it would take the case of 83-year-old Edith Windsor, who is challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I’ve finally begun to hope that the right to marry will soon be guaranteed across the nation.

Edie Windsor was saddled with a federal estate tax bill of $363,000 when her partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, passed away. This kind of injustice is all too familiar to me, since my family also pays what we call the “gay tax.”

This tax is a combination of unfair expenses that same-sex couples face as a result of discriminatory laws. We pay thousands of extra dollars each year so one of my moms can be covered by the other’s health insurance plan. If they were married, it would be free. For my family, estate taxes have also been a concern. Since these taxes have changed many times in recent years and may continue to change significantly in the future, my family had to buy extra life insurance to ensure we could afford the tax imposed on us from the ownership transfer of our apartment if something were to happen to one of my moms. If my parents were married, it would be inherited with no taxes at all.

Under DOMA, marriages like my moms’ union don’t count for federal purposes. Like a string of state laws along the lines of California’s Proposition 8, which prevents same-sex couples from getting married, this legislation does real harm to our families, friends, and neighbors.

Legal advocates sometimes point to unfair taxation to explain why DOMA is unconstitutional, but the problem goes beyond monetary inequality. The law has to go, not just because of the extra expense, but because of the bigger message it sends. It teaches that our country can devalue certain people while taxing them more. It teaches that same-sex families don’t count.

But our families do matter. And when all families can take care of each other, our communities are stronger.

We need to dump DOMA and overturn Prop 8. Such discrimination and misinformation is harmful not only to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families, but to all families.

The national dialogue about marriage equality hits more than “close” to home, it is about my home — and the homes and families of Americans across the country just like me.

Sam Paltrow-Krulwich is a junior history major at Oberlin College. She is a Fellow with People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program.
Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/lalnaper Lori Lathrop

    Your inheritance tax question raises all kinds of issues regarding same sex “marriage.” Everyone pays “inheritance” tax whether they are gay or straight if they inherit property or money – I think in the situation you are talking about is if one of your mom’s died her partner would just OWN everything they had together – it would not be considered an inheritance which is what happens in a legal marriage between a male and a female. What you are saying is that your second mom has to inherit the property of your first mom because they don’t jointly own anything by law??? What is to prevent two straight women friends from moving in together to avoid paying inheritance tax? The chain could go on and on and on and on… when that first mom dies, the second mom could have a marriage with a third mom and leave her all her wealth, and then the third mom could have a marriage with a fifth mom and leave her all her wealth you see they keep “marrying” someone younger and it goes on and on and on and nobody ever pays inheritance tax because they are married. Also the kids of the first Mom and Second mom who should actually “inherit” some property from the second mom get nothing because she remarried. This scenario can not happen when a man and a woman is in the picture – eventually the man will die and then eventually the wife will die even if it is wife number three and the assets will be divided and inherited.

    “It teaches that our country can devalue certain people while taxing them more. It teaches that same-sex families don’t count.” I think that you will have to add rich people to this statement because our government wants to tax them more too and I believe that perhaps they feel devalued too…..

    • JPSnoopington

      Excellent analysis.