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Posted by gustav at 11:01PM, Saturday, December 02nd, 2000

The Gay Tax

My adventures in getting domestic partner health benefits at work

Recently, I needed to investigate my employer's policy for domestic partner benefits. My partner got laid off from his badly-run dotcom job, and was out of health insurance, unless we opted to pay three-hundred-some-odd dollars a month for COBRA. We'd be married by now, if we could, and getting him health insurance through my work would involve paying about $15 a month extra for the "family" health-care premium (that this in itself isn't a pre-tax expense we'll ignore for the moment.)

Unfortunately, I can't be married in this country, nor can I have any of the legal benefits of marriage. So, I talked to our HR person at work. There's nothing about DP benefits in our company handbook so I wasn't sure whether it would be a problem. Well, it turned out not to be a problem so much as an oversight (the kind of thing that makes me feel like gays are societally invisible.) A little while later, after talking to a couple people at work and at the health plan administration office, our HR person came back with the info. She said everything was fine, except that I needed to be aware of the tax implications before enrolling my partner.

Tax implications?

See, if I enroll my partner, my company will pay most of the premiums, which amount to four-hundred-some dollars a month. But because he doesn't meet the legal definition of a family member in this country, those premiums aren't counted as pre-tax benefits. Instead, the difference between what the company pays for the family premium for me and my partner and what it would pay for the single premium for just me is counted as taxable income.

This difference amounts to about $300 a month, which is enough to push me into the next tax bracket at the end of the year, even though I'm not taking home any extra money. So, I can do this and pay a couple grand more in taxes at the end of the year, or we can pay $300+ a month for COBRA out of my partner's unemployment benefits -- which leaves hardly enough from his unemployment to make a dent in our rent. So, where in Europe, none of this would be an issue, because we'd have health insurance through the state (as it really should be in this country), here we get screwed to the tune of several thousand bucks a year, relative to a couple of married breeders.

As I sit here, MTV is blaring away in the background (don't blame me -- my coworkers are watching it, and the computer with the TV card happens to be unfortunately situated quite close to me). On whatever insipid show is playing, the MC is interviewing a male audience-member who runs a boy-band trading card site. The MC is berating him for this, asking him if he's obsessed with boy-bands, and whether he plays sports or does any other presumably straight-man redeeming activities. It's pretty disgusting that in this, the 21st century, homophobia is so deeply ingrained in 20-somethings that no one bats an eyelash at this sort of thing.

Please don't try to tell me that MTV, like other bigots trying to hide behind a presumption of normalcy, don't have anything against gays, they just don't like the overt sexuality that we insist on shoving in everybody's faces. This show, like most of what you see on MTV (and, shockingly enough, everywhere else in this country), has quite a bit to do with sexuality, trashy though it may be.

Then there's that Visa commercial where a guy's getting a tattoo with his girlfriend's name, Donna, and doesn't have the money to finish it, so the tattoo-er stops when it says "I love Don". That any man should get a tattoo that proclaims his love for another man is the punchline of the commercial's joke -- and the message, presumably, is "Get Visa so people don't think you're gay." A friend was surprised when I explained why I found the commercial offensive. Religious freaks act as though it's gays' hatred for them which is behind our calls for equal rights and protections. They say they're sick of us whining about everything, and saying it's hate when someone pistol-whips a gay boy and ties him to a barbed wire fence to freeze to death, so they start to bandy around the term "hate crime" whenever anyone says anything about their "religious" hatred. Well, I'm starting to be pissed off, and you would too, if, every time you turned on the tv, you found yourself the butt of a joke, and every time you read the news, you saw that another gay person had been killed or fired or denied adoption rights.

All of which is to say, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the tax codes punish me for being gay. But that's cold comfort. I'm not whining about wanting special protections and special rights to bad-mouth the religious right and say the boy scouts can't spend my tax dollars. Those aren't special protections, they're just the ones everyone is supposed to (but doesn't in actuality) enjoy under the bill of rights. I want the same benefits and same tax and legal status that other people enjoy with their three-month-long Vegas marriages. I want to be able to have a will, and hospital visitation rights, and health insurance for the guy that I want to live with for the rest of my life. Why can't we be as progressive as the EU? When it comes to human rights and liberties, I don't think the US is at the top of the heap any more. And we're likely to get more and more behind as we suffer the right-wing backlash of the current presidential administration.

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