Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Plight of Heterosexual Couples

If an employee adds a same-sex partner to her or his health care plan, the federal government taxes the value of the coverage paid by the employer. Heterosexual couples who are legally married do not have to pay this extra tax while, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, even same-sex couples who are legally married do.

Logistically, this law means that I, for instance, will pay about $1,000 more in taxes this year than a similarly-situated heterosexual married couple. That is not small beans.

In June, Google announced that it was going to compensate employees for this extra tax that is levied upon same-sex couples. Those receiving this compensation are employees who have same-sex partners covered by their health plan.

But watch, writing in the Detroit Examiner, Rick Weaver gets it so wrong, lending the impression that it is heterosexuals who are so very discriminated against in law and policy. First, his inflammatory and misleading headline. Rather than framing the DOMA-caused unfair tax law as a special tax imposed upon gays and lesbians, he frames Google's new policy as a special privilege for "gays and lesbians":

"Google gives raise to gay and lesbian employees, now paid more than heterosexual employees"

Actually, to pick nits, heterosexuals are perfectly entitled to receive this benefit. They are just as free to enter into same-sex unions as anybody else is. LOL!11!!1! All joking aside, it's simply not accurate to say that this benefit applies to all gay and lesbian employees. The benefit isn't for gay and lesbian individuals, but rather, the smaller sub-set of employees who are in same-sex unions.

Two, it's misleading to refer to this benefit as a "raise," with the implication being that "gay and lesbian employees" are being placed in advantageous position over their heterosexual counterparts. Rather, because of DOMA and unequal marriage laws, the Internal Revenue Code privileges heterosexual married couples, giving them a financial advantage over same-sex couples when it comes to the taxation of medical benefits. Google's decision equalizes that injustice, it doesn't put same-sex couples "ahead" of heterosexual ones.

Despite sort-of explaining this within his article, he continues, with the weasle words:

"The gay and lesbians [sic] raises are intended to offset the healthcare tax benefit enjoyed by heterosexual couples."

Despite calling them "raises," notice how he admits they're also "intended to offset" something. Like, say, an entire family law framework that discriminates against same-sex couples.

Notice how he also calls them "gay and lesbian raises," when the benefit actually only applies to a subset of gays and lesbians. Oh, and possibly bisexual and transgender people too.

Weaver continues, explaining why "proponents" applaud Google's decision:

"Proponents are heralding the move as an overdue recognition of the plight of gay and lesbian couples. They say it recognizes the discrimination they receive because of not having legalized marriages."

Up to that point, the entire story, beginning with the headline, was framed so as to imply that LGBT people are getting some sort of unfair advantage over heterosexuals. Nonetheless, Rick Weaver, feels compelled to present Both Sides To a Story since, after all, he explicitly presented the LGBT "proponents" side:

"Opponents, including the religious group Focus on the Family, say Google should also, in the sense of fairness, give gross-up pay to married heterosexual couples paying the marriage-penalty tax."

"In the sense of fairness," a simpler solution comes to mind. Like, eradicating our separate-and-unequal legal framework for same-sex and heterosexual couples.

What a misleading, disappointing, and poorly-written headline and article.

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