Suze Orman says that “gay Americans pay more taxes for fewer rights,” and adds that if heterosexual couples had to pay in taxes half of what they inherited upon the passing of their spouse “they wouldn’t stand for it.”
Orman is a financial whiz and TV host, and in a companion piece on CNN.com to her interview, she writes:
“Beyond the social discrimination, the refusal of our federal government to legally recognize same-sex marriages imposes steep financial penalties on same-sex couples. That two of the most costly penalties are triggered upon the death of one partner just adds to the ache of the senseless discrimination.”
I have been with my partner, Kathy Travis, for 12 years. If I am lucky I will spend the rest of my life living and sharing my joys and happiness with her. We have worked very hard as a team to save for our future together and consider everything we have as equally owned by the other.
If the federal government recognized same-sex marriage, then when one of us dies our assets would seamlessly transfer free of tax to the survivor. That’s a basic right that every heterosexual married couple has.
But because there is no federal recognition of same-sex marriage, if I die first, or vice versa, before either of us can inherit what is now jointly our assets, there would be a federal estate tax bill that one of us would currently have to pay.
Orman also notes that “every gay couple is discriminated against when it comes to Social Security benefits.”
Married heterosexual couples can maximize their Social Security retirement benefits by taking advantage of the highest-earner’s benefit. When both spouses are alive, the lower earner can opt to collect a monthly benefit check that is equal to 50% of his or her spouse’s benefit. For many married couples, that 50% spousal benefit is often much higher than what the lower-wage-earning spouse could collect based on his or her own earnings record. Most important, when the high earner dies, the surviving spouse is allowed to collect 100% of the deceased’s higher benefit.
Because same-sex marriages aren’t recognized on the federal level, gay and lesbian couples are not eligible for Social Security spousal benefits. The lower earner cannot claim any benefits based on the higher earner’s benefit. A heterosexual couple married for just a few months is able to collect a federal benefit that same-sex couples who have been together for decades can’t. Are we really a nation that says that is fair?
Beyond those two glaring death penalties, health insurance is another area of severe federal financial discrimination against gay couples. I am so glad to see more employers extending health insurance benefits to same-sex partners. But because same-sex couples are not considered legally married under the eyes of the federal government, the dollar value of the health coverage is considered taxable income.
A 2007 study estimated that this gay health insurance penalty costs same-sex couples an aggregate $178 million ($1,069 per household), while employers paid an additional $57 million in payroll tax on that taxable income. No heterosexual married couple or their employers pay that penalty. Again, are we really a nation that says that is fair?
It’s not. LGBT Americans have been subsidizing the lives of our heterosexual peers since, well, forever.
It’s time for that to end. Now.
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