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The cost of marriage discrimination? A $3,500 pay cut!

The comments lately are abuzz with people talking about the tax penalty on their same-sex partner’s health insurance. A few months back I calculated the exact impact for my partner and me — and I work at a company with full domestic partner benefits. This is what I wrote about it. You’ll also find links to help you calculate your own penalty, too.

by Rob Tisinai

I investigated how much it would cost to add a domestic partner to my heath plan. If I were a straight man adding a wife, I could find the answer right in my employee handbook: $729.04 a year. And of course I wouldn’t have to pay taxes on that money, which eases the pain.

But a domestic partnership is more complex, because the law says I do have to pay federal income tax on it — and by “it” I don’t just mean my own contribution. The feds tax me on my employer’s contribution, too: $5876.52 a year. This appears on my W-2 as “imputed income.”

Add it up, and being gay means my taxable income would be $6605.56 greater than if I were straight. So, at my marginal tax rate, my federal taxes would be higher by $1849.56.

But there’s more. That’s $1849.56 in take-home pay. What kind of salary cut does that represent? Don’t forget, take-home pay is only a fraction of your actual salary. My employers sent me to this site for calculating that sort of thing. It turns out a take-home hit like that is equivalent to a $3500 salary cut.

That’s right. Adding a spouse to my health plan is like getting $3500 pay cut, compared to what would happen if I were straight.

And this is at a company with full domestic partner benefits.

Actually, that analysis is pretty limited. It only looks at medical and dental benefits, and only takes into account federal income taxes. My accountant would have to calculate my taxes in two different ways: once as a single man for federal income tax, and once as a domestically partnered man for state income tax. That extra effort costs extra money.

And then there’s the death-by-a-thousand-cuts. To find all this out, I had to research company policy, call HR, be transferred to Payroll, then back to HR, and then wait on hold while the rep went hunting this information down. After that, I had to go online and play with payroll calculators. Same-sex couples go through this sort of small hassle again and again. And sometimes the hassles aren’t so small. Don’t forget, the National Organization for Marriage doesn’t even want to give us the right to claim our partner’s body from the morgue unless we’ve had the foresight to fill out a special bureaucratic form — a requirement married couples don’t face. These many small burdens add up to a Kafka-esque nightmare, and our opponents are quite happy to send us there.

Speaking of NOM, what does its president, Maggie Gallagher, have to say about the insurance issue?

But when both adults are working (as in egalitarian relationships), both partners tend to sustain their own health insurance.

Wow. How many ways can one sentence be lame?

  • “Egalitarian relationships”? That’s an odd term to pull out. And it doesn’t even mean what she think it means. Egalitarian relationships are those in which partners share control and decision-making equally. Employment status has nothing to do with it.
  • Why is Maggie only concerned with situations in which both adults are working? This month’s unemployment rate is 10.6%.
  • “Both partners tend to sustain their own health insurance.” Tend to? What does that mean exactly? Way to obscure the issue with vague, undefined terms.

Here’s are some facts for Maggie.

  • One out of every five America workers is uninsured.
  • Even workers with insurance don’t necessarily get it from their employers. In my state, less than half of working adults get insurance through their jobs.
  • Do some basic analysis on that stat, and it suggests about half of all couples face a situation where one partner is insured through work and the other is not (that’s rudimentary analysis – don’t quote it as expert commentary, but it’s a statistical ballpark). That’s the fraction of couples in need of spousal benefits.
  • Even if both partners are insured through work, one partner’s employer might offer much better coverage, so tax-free spousal benefits would be a blessing.

Maggie, of course, ignores all that. Instead she just makes up stuff like:

But when both adults are working (as in egalitarian relationships), both partners tend to sustain their own health insurance.

And then she pretends she’s actually said something.

45 Comments September 27, 2010

NOM’s strategy of hypocrisy, Part 2: Religious freedom

by Rob Tisinai

We’ve already seen that one of NOM’s favorite claims — that they’re protecting voters’ rights — is just a deceitful pose. NOM has another argument: They defend religious liberty against intolerant gays. Let’s see if that one holds up any better. [SPOILER ALERT: It does not.]

The argument is tough to analyze — it changes based on whom they’re speaking to. Writing for the uber-conservative Townhall website, Maggie Gallagher frets that churches will lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gays. But when addressing an audience less eager to fall into an orgy of anti-gay fear-mongering, she admits, “Clergy may be protected by the First Amendment.” Though even there, she’s being dishonest in saying they only may be protected.

Still, you’d expect NOM to be happy when the California legislature passes a bill saying,

The bill would specify that no priest, minister, rabbi, or authorized person of any religious denomination would be required to solemnize a marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his or her faith. The bill would state that any refusal to solemnize a marriage under that provision shall not affect the tax exempt status of any entity.

But no, NOM’s unhappy. NOM’s youth outreach affiliate, the Ruth Institute (“Making marriage cool again!”), says this:

The real intent behind this bill is to make it appear as though it eliminates one of the main objections to same-sex marriage, that it jeopardizes religious freedom, in what gay activists hope will be an effort to get gay marriage on the ballot in California in 2012. They think that doing this will make gay marriage seem more acceptable to the voters of California and make it easier for such an amendment to pass…

The bill modifies several sections of California law and would change the word ‘marriage’ to the phrase ‘civil marriage.’ But a wedding is already a civil ceremony! Again, why would they want to modify these portions of the civil code? Well, the idea is to pave the way for two different kinds of legally recognized marriages: religious marriage and civil marriage.

But you know, the Public Religion Research Institute recently surveyed Californians and discovered support for marriage equality zooms to 61% with a law like this one in place. It’s what the voters want. And yet NOM and the Ruth Institute are against it. Funny — first they condemn us for opposing the vote of the people, and then they condemn us for supporting the will of the people. It’s almost as if…as if…as if NOM would condemn us no matter what we do.

Okay, so it’s not about clergy. Then what is NOM worried about? Maggie keeps bringing up Catholic Charities of Boston, which shut down adoption services because it could no longer legally discriminate against married same-sex couples. Maggie considers this a violation of Catholic religious freedom. Hmm. Where does this reasoning take us?

Same-sex marriages are just one type of marriage the Church refuses to recognize. The Church will recognize as valid a marriage between, say, a Lutheran and a Methodist conducted in a Methodist church. But it will not recognize a marriage between a Catholic and a Methodist conducted in a Methodist church. Now, Massachusetts law forbids Catholic Charities from discriminating against such a couple, even though the Church doesn’t view the marriage as valid. Yet Catholic Charities never threatened to shut down adoption services over it. Why not?

Oh, hell, let’s go even further. I had this email exchange with Maggie in April, 2009 (Maggie’s in bold):

Do you believe that accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior is necessary in order to go to Heaven?


I believe that the only way to the Father is through the Son.

Is the a mass email or a personal question directed at me?

(Do I know you?)


This is not a mass email, but your work has been in the news lately and I’ve been curious about your religious beliefs, since most of your work seems to focus on secular evidence about marriage.

Thanks for your quick reply. Your answer could have several meanings, though. I’m not sure if your answer means that one must accept Jesus as one’s lord and savior in order to be granted access to Heaven. Is that what it means?

I believe God sent his Son to die for us and it is only through Jesus that we are saved.

And that God does not force salvation on anyone so yes we have to choose to accept Jesus.


Thanks for the clarification. I hope you don’t mind if I share this with others who might be wondering as you continue your work.

My faith is not a secret so sure. (I am a Roman Catholic) Maggie

Thanks. I was raised in a Roman Catholic family, too, and was an altar boy even.

There’s one thing that some of my Jewish friends find troubling about this issue. They interpret it as a statement that Jews cannot go to Heaven unless they convert. That offends them. Is there a way to counter that belief (does God give an exemption for his Chosen People) or is this something that has no wiggle room?

That would be up to God, not me.

That’s what I found troubling about your question: I don’t put restrictions or issue edicts to God about what is necessary for Him to save people.

I believe he sent his Son to do this. Maggie

Near as I can tell, Maggie thinks only Christians can go to Heaven, unless God grants a special exception. The implication for adoption is clear, then: Placing child with Jewish parents (for instance) would put that child’s eternal fate in jeopardy.

So does Maggie think Catholic Charities should be allowed to discriminate against Jews? I’ve never heard her say so. I doubt that she does believe so, even though it’s a clear implication of her rhetoric about religious freedom. It’s almost as if…as if…as if she only cares when it comes to teh gays.

That’s bad enough, but as is so common with NOM, it gets even worse. Go back to the Ruth Institute article about California’s religious liberty bill, and you’ll find this worry:

[W]hat about the county clerk who refuses to conduct gay marriages because of his faith…

Wow. They’re no longer talking about clergy, or charities, or even some random private individual. They’re talking about a government employee, hired to provide services to the American public, and paid with taxpayer dollars. They think government employees should be able to freeze out any American citizen they like, as long as they can shout, “Religion!” And still keep their jobs.

As far as I know, NOM complains a lot about religious freedom, but they’ve never fully defined the protection they’re looking for. Would they dare? Because I think it comes down to something like, People can ignore any law they want if they can give a religious pretext for doing so.

Wait, that’s not right. If that were right, then people of faith would be able to do any religious thing they wanted — even marrying same-sex couples despite state law to the contrary. And we know NOM doesn’t want to extend that liberty, no matter how religiously motivated.

Geez. It’s almost as if…as if…as if NOM’s vision of religious liberty consists of allowing people to do whatever NOM wants them to do.

No wonder they’re so vague.

188 Comments September 23, 2010

Is Maggie Gallagher a bigot?

By Rob Tisinai

Maggie Gallagher loves to complain about being called a bigot. It’s a favorite talking point. She writes whole columns about it. In fact, I’d bet she hopes people call her a bigot, just so she can roll around some more in the broken glass of victimhood.

The problem with this pose is that she founded the National Organization for Marriage . And on that group’s website is a page called “SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Answering the Toughest Questions.” I see much claptrap on that page, but one mild statement shines out as the most offensive of all. She suggests this answer to a frequent question (or so she claims):

5. Why do you want to interfere with love?
A: “Love is a great thing. But marriage isn’t just any kind of love; it’s the special love of husband and wife for each other and their children.”

Logically, this answer is easy enough to pick apart. Certainly we’d laugh at the idea that there is a specific kind of love common to every husband/wife couple. There’s not even a love requirement for marriage in the first place, much less a legal obligation to feel some vague, undefined “special love.” In fact, Maggie and her ideological kin would argue that lack of love is no reason for heading to divorce court.

But NOM’s offense to logic isn’t what pisses me off. It’s the implication that gay and lesbian couples aren’t capable of feeling the same sort of love that straight couples can. Even more outrageously, that we can’t feel the same love for our children that straight couples can.

No. No, no, and no.

Gays and lesbians are not lacking in our ability to love. It’s literally dehumanizing to claim such a thing — to argue that we’re missing some essential component of what makes people human.

Is Maggie Gallagher a bigot? I can’t claim the right to judge the whole of her character. But in this case, to be sure, the answer she gives is the answer of a bigot. So Maggie, if you want, cry victim and roll around in that broken glass. You’re the one who put it there.

105 Comments September 15, 2010

Are you a pro-gay bigot?

I originally posted this on my personal blog, but it’s the sort of thing that begs for commentary and fresh input. It’s a list of twenty questions on a conservative web site under the title, “Are You a Pro-Gay Bigot?” The questions reveal quite a lot about about the author’s mentality. Since NOM has taken to calling marriage equality supporters hateful bigots, I think it’s appropriate to post it here, especially as we explore issues around messaging.

Here are the questions from the conservative web site, along with my own answers to each. If you have answers of your own, share them with the Prop 8 Trial Tracker community. I would love to hear them. — Rob

by Rob Tisinai

1. Do you believe in free speech about homosexuality for everyone except conservatives or Christians?

No, I believe in free speech for everyone.

2. Do you participate in name-calling of those who object to homosexuality — names like bigot, hate-monger, etc.?

No. It takes more than an objection to homosexuality. Here are the people I call bigots:

  • People who bully, assault, and kill gays because of their sexual orientation.
  • People who think gays should be imprisoned or put to death.
  • People who devote their professional lives to stripping gays of their rights.
  • People who make sweeping generalizations about the character of gay people.
  • People who automatically believe any anti-gay statement they read, while shutting their eyes to contradictory facts and evidence.

3. Do you believe ‘gays’ have been deprived of the right to marry? Doesn’t pretty much everyone have the right to marry now — to a person of the opposite sex?

a. Yes I do.

b. No they don’t. Here are three responses:

  • Do you really think we’ve achieved equality and freedom just because I have the right to do what YOU want me to do? That’s not equality or freedom — that’s putting you in charge of me.
  • Your question is based on the principle that if everyone has the same rights, then everything must be okay. But does this principle hold true? Apply it to religion: Suppose we passed a Constitutional amendment shutting down all non-Christian places of worship. Your principle would suggest that no one has been deprived of their rights because everyone has the same right to enter a Christian Church — and if everyone has the same rights, then we’re fine. That would be ludicrous, so your principle is flawed.
  • If only same-sex marriages were allowed, and all opposite-sex marriages were invalidated, would straights think they’ve been deprived of their right to marry? I’d like to see someone do on a poll on that question.

4. Do you believe those who object to homosexuality are motivated by fear or ignorance? Do you believe they could never be motivated by compassion for the people involved, and if they say so, they must be lying?

a. For the most part, yes. I was raised to be afraid of gays and was kept ignorant of the facts by my parents (who were trying to “protect” me and had themselves been taught untruths), by my church, by my public school teachers, and by the media. I think this is true of most people, not just me.

b. I do believe some anti-gays are motivated by compassion — a compassion based on ignorance and fear. They’re trying to “rescue” me from something they fear, they know nothing of, and they’ve been lied to about by people they trust.

To read the rest of the questions and my answers to them, click here for (more…)

152 Comments September 7, 2010

NOM’s strategy of hypocrisy

by Rob Tisinai

The National Organization for Marriage has a long history of not saying what they mean. For instance, on their website they advise their followers:

Language to avoid at all costs: “Ban same-sex marriage.” Our base loves this wording. So do supporters of SSM. They know it causes us to lose about ten percentage points in polls. Don’t use it. Say we’re against “redefining marriage” or in favor or “marriage as the union of husband and wife” NEVER “banning same-sex marriage.”

It’s startling, the admission that they don’t want say the one thing they’re devoted to doing. Want to know another rank example of their hypocrisy? Their claim that they’re protecting the rights of voters in each state against evil activist judges.

  • “[T]his case is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court,” Maggie Gallagher says,”where the right of states to define marriage as being between one man and one woman will be affirmed.”
  • “The gay activists don’t care about our right to home rule and right to vote on marriage,” NOM claims in a D.C. election mailer.
  • NOM’s new radio ad says, “[Candidate for governor] Tom Emmer believes that Minnesota voters should have the final say on marriage, just as voters in 31 other states have done.”

See, they’re not against gay marriage, they’re just protecting the rights of local voters to decide things locally.

Except they’re not.

Maggie supports this version of a federal marriage amendment:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

If Maggie were sincere, she’d favor an amendment that allows each state to set its own terms on marriage. But the amendment above does exactly the opposite. It forbids the voters of each state from doing this. If enough red states got behind the amendment, they could dictate marriage policy for the entire country. Even if every California voter supported marriage equality, it wouldn’t matter: California still couldn’t legalize same-sex marriage.

Here’s what NOM and I (and most of you, I bet) have in common: We don’t believe the voters in a state should decide whether we have the right to marry in that state. The difference, though, is that we don’t deceive people by pretending otherwise.

All NOM really wants is to kill our right to marry — by any means possible. When they claim (as they so often do) that they’re standing up for the right of voters to control marriage in their own state, they’re lying. And all we have to do is ask, “Then why are you pushing a Constitutional amendment to strip voters of that right?”

By the way, I posted this in a comment on NOM’s blog (screen shot here). Naturally, they “moderated” it out of existence. God forbid their supporters should learn of their hypocrisy.

143 Comments September 6, 2010

Kafka and the National Organization for Marriage

(Over my first few weeks here on the Prop 8 Trial Tracker, I’m going to reprint a few — just a few — prior entries from my blog at Waking Up Now. The story of Ron Hanby and Mark Goldberg is one that everybody ought to know. First, because it’s a wrenching story that should open all but the coldest of hearts. Second, because it shows we need full marriage equality on a national scale. And finally, because it demonstrates the nightmare world that NOM wants us to inhabit. — Rob)

by Rob Tisinai

Ron Hanby, struggling with depression, took his own life on October 2, 2008. Mark Goldberg, his partner of 17 years, battled Rhode Island bureaucracy for weeks before the state would release Ron’s body to him. Ron had no living relatives. The couple, however, did have:

  • wills
  • living wills
  • power of attorney documents
  • and a Connecticut marriage certificate (Rhode Island doesn’t permit same-sex marriage or even civil unions)

None of that mattered in Rhode Island. Mark spent every day of his immediate grief on the phone with state officials, trying to get his husband’s body out of the morgue. Finally, after four weeks, a state bureaucrat took a special interest and helped him get Ron’s body released.

One good thing came out of this: Rhode Island’s state legislators wrote a bill creating funeral rights for domestic partners. They passed it in a bipartisan show of humanity: 63-1 in the House, unanimously in the Senate. And the Republican governor vetoed it.

Now the National Organization for Marriage is urging legislators not to override that veto. Chris Plante (executive director of NOM-RI), has written to them:

[T]he proposed legislation simply is not necessary… The right of any person, without regard to sexual preference or relationship to the decedent, to serve as a designated funeral-planning agent is already expressly guaranteed by Rhode Island Law 5-33.1-4. That statute only requires a simple notarized form naming an agent.

Ah, yes, Rhode Island Law 5-33.1-4. Of course. And what can we say in return except:

Thank you Mr. Plante!

We keep hearing that same-sex marriage isn’t necessary, that we can secure civil equality by visiting lawyers and drawing up contracts. That’s false, but people don’t always understand that. Luckily for us, Mr. Plante has taken this argument into the realm of satire: Mark and Ron had wills, power of attorney, and an actual marriage license? Simpletons! They should have known to go to a notary and designate each other as funeral planning agents, pursuant to R.I. Law 5-33.1-4!

Franz Kafka wrote this kind of satire. The term “Kafkaesque” describes a world in which “characters lack a clear course of action, the ability to see beyond immediate events, and the possibility of escape. The term’s meaning has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical.”

Compare that to Mark’s own description of what his life turned into:

I called the Police to our home where the death occurred and in two hours they performed their investigation, offered their condolences, removed Ron’s body and left our house. No one offered any information on what I was to do next. No phone number to contact the detective in charge, no information on where they were taking Ron’s body, no information on what I as his partner for so many years should do next.

Ron had no next of kin other than me. I shared our Wills, Living Wills, Power of Attorney and Marriage Certificate to the Police Department, Medical Examiner’s Office and the Department of Health, but no one was willing to see these documents. The State Law stated that a two week search for next of kin must be done. The Medical Examiner’s office waited a full week before placing an ad in the Providence Journal. After no one responded they waited another week to send paperwork to the Health and Human Services Department listing Ron as an unclaimed body. During this four week process, I was on the phone every day trying to convince someone, anyone, that I was the person claiming Ron’s body. The same response came back to me every time; “It’s State law, our hands are tied, there’s nothing we can do”.

I attempted to place an obituary in the Providence Journal and again, I was denied because we were not blood relatives, and the Journal had to comply with state rules. GLAD, the Gay and Lesbian Advocacy and Defenders could not help me because our bond was not recognized in the State of RI. After four weeks an employee in the Department of General Public Assistance of Human Services took pity upon me and my plight. She reviewed our documentation and was able to get all parties concerned to release Ron’s body to me.

Mr. Plante and NOM look at this nightmare and say, No problem. Because, after all, Mark and Ron could have avoided it simply by following the instructions in Rhode Island Law 5-13.1-4.

I’ll make a deal with NOM: If they specify every law, every form, and every contract – in every state – that gay couples need to pursue in order to secure their rights as a couple, than I’ll do the same for straights. In fact, I’ll provide a complete and exhaustive list for straight Californians right now:

Okay, NOM, your turn.

But I doubt NOM will return the favor. They don’t want us to have any rights and benefits of marriage. Mr. Plante is clear about his reasons for opposing the funeral rights law.

[T]he legislation in question is actually an exploitation of Mr. Goldberg’s tragedy by the homosexual-marriage activists in Rhode Island. Despite their claims to the contrary, these bills serve simply as “Trojan Horses” for homosexual-marriage. In California and Connecticut…courts found that when rights of domestic partners, under either that nomenclature or as “civil-unions,” were expanded…that the State must by extension fully recognize homosexual marriage…

As such, NOM – Rhode Island respectfully requests that you vote to sustain the Governor’s veto both to avoid creating unnecessary law and to not move Rhode Island closer to recognizing homosexual-marriage.

[full quote here]

NOM doesn’t just oppose marriage equality. They don’t just oppose robust civil unions or watered-down domestic partnerships. They oppose anything that might constitute even the slightest formal recognition of our relationships. They want instead to send us running down a thousand different legal avenues in a labyrinth that they’re lobbying to turn against us.

Franz Kafka won a place in literature by creating a vivid and chilling world of bureaucratic brutality. That’s the world in which NOM wants us to live.

UPDATE: The Rhode Island legislature did override the veto.

85 Comments September 2, 2010

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