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In the Wake of Same Sex Marriage Approval: The Loss of Domestic Partnership Benefits?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Professor of law and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia, Katherine Franke, discussed what may happen to domestic partnerships - both straight and gay - now that gay marriage is legal in New York.

A Mixed Bag

A side effect of winning marriage equality in New York may mean domestic partners lose benefits they currently hold at work. The Wall Street Journal reported that at least two major companies, IBM and Raytheon, will drop health care and other benefits for unmarried domestic partners because same sex couples can now marry. Franke objects to this policy—she says people fought hard to pass domestic partnership laws for the purpose of recognizing families outside of marriage.

To have same sex marriage now be the way in which we cut off those rights for domestic partners seems to me to be a bad outcome, rather than seeing marriage as something among a menu of ways in which one can have their relationship legally recognized.

She says it's wonderful gay couples now have the ability to get married in New York, but they shouldn't be required to do so in order to get the benefits they already have. Furthermore, according to Franke, non-traditional heterosexual partnerships should be recognized in all workplaces.

One doesn't have to marry to be in a committed relationship. And the law in New York allows employees of the City of New York to get those benefits whether or not they're married.

The Gay Marriage Penalty

Franke said the bars against gay marriage and Don't Ask Don't Tell represent the two major examples of state sponsored homophobia in the U.S. Now she says gay rights advocates need to broaden their scope in order to bring true equality to couples. For example, no matter what happens on the state level, until federal marriage laws change, gay couples will continue to pay tax penalties.

If you put your domestic partner or what will soon be a gay or lesbian spouse on your health form at work, because we still have the Defense of Marriage Act on the Federal level, you don't gain the tax benefit of having that person on your health plan as your spouse, it gets counted as income that you have to pay taxes on.

Health care benefits shouldn't be confined to marriage

In fact, Franke's position on how health benefits should be provided through the workplace extends far beyond marriage or domestic partnerships.

Each person gets to pick a person that they would like to have on their benefits plan. It could be your spouse, it could be the domestic partner that you live with, it could be your brother who lives down the street or in another town.

Why?

In the U.S. we distribute health care through employment, but there's no reason why it has to be then portalled through the very narrow channel of marriage.

Read Franke's op-ed in The New York Times.

 

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Comments [64]

Gregg

People are forgetting the push for marriage equality came out of the partners of gay men who were dying from AIDS in the 1980's. It was common practice for hospitals, families, and the government to prohibit these dying men's companions, whether long term or short term, from visiting them in the hospital, from having a voice in decisions about treatment, burial, estate rights, if cohabiting and renting an apartment-not being kicked out when the partner dies. Basically, the main person in the sick man's life was kicked to the curb.

Jul. 07 2011 07:10 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It turns out that there was always the option of a voter referendum in NY on the question of same-sex marriage. But the Democrats blocked it - I guess they thought it would fail, as it has every time it has come to a referendum. And same-sex marriage failed this year in two other states.

Jul. 05 2011 08:06 AM
bareheadedwoman from Brooklyn

I was married in a church, and stayed in the marriage for ten years. Upon seeking a divorce, the state told me that since the minister submitted our licence after the expiration date, we were not really married and were free to go our own ways, divorce not necessary. Glad there were no kids since the whole thing was a figment of our imagination.

The second time around (14 years now), I decided not to invite the government to participate in my covenant with another human since it hasn't proven itself competent or necessary in that arena--negligible tax benefits notwithstanding. My lovelife is none of the governments' business.

Jul. 01 2011 04:32 AM
Liza from Brooklyn

@Karen

No, the guest was correct. I am in a domestic partnership in NYC, and my partner has to pay taxes on the health care provided through his employer. He would not have to do this if we were married.

---------------------
Karen from nyc

A bit of misinformation (I think) perpetrated by your guest is that employee health care provided by an employer is considered income and therefore taxable. I think it us on fact excluded as income!

Jun. 30 2011 12:05 PM
The Truth from Becky

It's all about benefits like we all knew anyways however...it didn't go quite like "they" thought it would once the same sex marriage issue was approved. You still have to file taxes separately and still will not receive any additional benefits on the health insurance...so what did you really gain? The privilege to hold a piece of paper stating what you had already declared for the world to anyways...that you are both gay and in a same sex relationship, nothing more.

Jun. 30 2011 11:00 AM

To Butnor of Manhattan

I AGREE that "marriage" (which does not exist amongst any other primates or animals) was INVENTED BY MEN to (a) secure their relationship with the children that came out of their mothers; and (b) to secure property, and to know who their heirs really are.

They wanted to make sure they were not supporting someone else's bast*rds! That is why marriage was INVENTED by MEN. It is of rapidly decreasing relevance to men today, as their former patriarchal privileges no longer exist!

Jun. 30 2011 10:54 AM

Elizabeth,

So end ALL tax breaks to ALL relationships, period, if that is the case. Personally, I don't believe in marriage for its own sake, but only as a means of producing and raising children in the framework of what used be called "family."
Family was a system of kinship, and was essentially patriarchal in structure, just as monarchy once was.

But we will soon be able to produce children in factories, so I see no reason to support this archaic institution at all, other than to the extent that it produces some children. How do you expect the aged to support themselves if we don't produce children? Can you explain that? Robots? To produce robots that produce robots to help the aged?

Jun. 30 2011 10:53 AM
Christopher

Yes, with all that's going on in the world today, don't you think we're covering this topic to death? I agree with Obama, things are moving in the right direction, now let's move onto slightly more PRESSING ISSUES!

Jun. 30 2011 10:53 AM
burtnor from Manhattan

To jgarbuz:

It's bizarre that you think having children is the only activity society should value and reward, that other relationships are sterile and of no social value.

Actually, marriage was instituted as a way to protect paternal property rights. It was about power, not subsidies for raising workers and soldiers. Further, do you not think non-parents contribute as much or more to the creation of a productive, stable society that benefits all? Do you not think non-parents have critical roles in the raising and education of children? Finally, do you not think we might reconsider subsidizing children in a severely over-populated, environmentally decimated world?

Jun. 30 2011 10:51 AM
Karen from nyc

A bit of misinformation (I think) perpetrated by your guest is that employee health care provided by an employer is considered income and therefore taxable. I think it us on fact excluded as income!

Jun. 30 2011 10:50 AM
Bob from Porto Alegre Brazil

how the ol USA can continue to cloud the heath care issue so completely once again amazes me. Katherine´s simple idea of an employee picking one person to be on their plan has been in effect here in Brazil for at least 15 years.
don´t think of Brazil as 3rd world any more
Health care is far superior to most US folks and surprisingly more efficient.
It is not free--but you do get what you pay for--and you don´t need an overseer when in hospital!!
Great show Brian

Jun. 30 2011 10:45 AM

Over population is a problem for every country in the world. Every person is or will soon be effected by the hole in the ozone, climate change, food distribution...etc. Maybe, distributing people more evenly around the world would be beneficial, but producing more is not something that needs to be subsidized.

Jun. 30 2011 10:45 AM
Sarah from New York

What no one is talking about is that single people are receiving none of the additional benefits of married people, or those in a committed relationship. My company gives benefits to the partners of those in both these situations. I only get half the benefits of a person in a relationship. Tying any kind of employee benefit to relationship status, gay or straight, is discriminatoroy.

Jun. 30 2011 10:42 AM

To Elizabeth

Overpopulation is not the problem in Europe or the US, but rather the influx of immigrants who are changing the ethnic and cultural nature of those societies. OVerpopulation is a problem of mostly Muslim countries, and African countries, not of formerly Caucasian countries. The problem in Europe and Russia and in Cacuasian and indeed African-American America is not having enough children to support an aging population. And the prescription of importing more and more third world immigration presents other problems.

Jun. 30 2011 10:41 AM

To Burtnor

Originally, governments began to get involved in marriage because most marriages used to be about having and raising children, who were going to be the future soldiers, workers, and taxpayers. That is not necessarily the case anymore, but the tradition of tax breaks for married couples continues even when there is no prospect of producing children. A subsidy that makes no sense. Child production and rearing should be helped, not sterile relationships of no concern to anyone else.

Jun. 30 2011 10:41 AM

jgarbuz, your position that producing off-spring is beneficial for the military, or otherwise, is outdated. In 2011, over population is a critical issue; with looming shortages in water, nutritional food, and clean air. No taxpayers should have to pay for others to have children. Leah, not to be insensitive, but having children is self serving. If you want kids so much, there are orphans who need a home.

Jun. 30 2011 10:41 AM
Edwin Foster from Boonton, NJ

I and my straight partner strongly advocate gay marriage. She and I do not want to marry. We both had long marriages with children that ended in difficult divorces. In our state of NJ if one is gay, one can enter into a domestic partnership, however if one is straight, one cannot enter into a domestic partnership until both partners are 62 years old or older. This discriminates against us based upon age, we have no right of survivorship and although we have wills inheriting each other's estates we will have to pay a hefty state inheritance tax when one of us dies. Why do we need to be married when gay people do not? This is backwards on all accounts. Both marriage and domestic partnerships should be available to all regardless of sexual orientation or age.

Jun. 30 2011 10:39 AM
Michelle from Manhattan-Nolita

I'm so glad you are covering this topic. Aside from financial reasons to get married, there is also a cultural and religious factor in people not getting married. NYC is known for its inter-faith, inter-racial coupling. I actually went to City Hall to get a domestic partnership with my boyfriend to show my commitment to him, but I would like to get married properly that are in line with my family's culture, values, and consent. Also, my boyfriend wanted to include me on his insurance plan so that it would lessen the burden of me paying for a separate insurance policy. To our surprise, his company would not allow me to be included on his insurance plan because even though he has worked for this company 15 years, domestic partnerships do not apply to non-union employees. So within his own company there is a reverse discrimination not just by gender, but within their own policy. We are completely committed to each other and it is unfortunate that this is our situation.

Jun. 30 2011 10:39 AM
Burtnor from Manhattan

The whole conversation ignores the way that all benefits are enhanced for couples. Why do we privilege this state so much over single status, which has significant social and economic penalties? The idea of allowing every employee to choose one person to add for benefits partly addresses the issue and would be a start, but it doesn't fix the "single supplement" problem widespread in many contexts.

Jun. 30 2011 10:37 AM
TheMayoress from NYC

THANK YOU, Franke & Lehrer, for giving voice to some rarely-discussed perspectives.

I know this is a hugely unpopular view, but getting married and having children are choices. So those of us who choose neither, which is our natural state, should not get less or subsidize those who chose another life path.

If a company is going to give benefits to someone who isn't an employee, why can't that be anyone the linked employee chooses? It's not the 50's when the wife stayed home and didn't work. My libertarian side questions why companies are still providing benefits at all... though in (my democrat) reality, I do understand that benefits indirectly can benefit the company via employee (and their family's, I guess) well-being, etc.

Can someone formulate this argument better than I can before my morning coffee?? :)

Jun. 30 2011 10:37 AM
Burtnor from Manhattan

The whole conversation ignores the way that all benefits are enhanced for couples. Why do we privilege this state so much over single status, which has significant social and economic penalties? The idea of allowing every employee to choose one person to add for benefits partly addresses the issue and would be a start, but it doesn't fix the "single supplement" problem widespread in many contexts.

Jun. 30 2011 10:33 AM

To Leah,

If you need some government health help to possibly make it possible to produce children, then I can see why the taxpayer might have a reason to help you.Otherwise, why should a non-child producing relationship be of any interest to the taxpaying public to assist?

In many countries, there are government child payments up to a certain number of children, to help out. But I don't see why those who are not producing our future soldiers, workers and taxpayers should get any special breaks!?

Jun. 30 2011 10:32 AM
Michael Sheehan from Manhattan

... and, now Ms. Franke reveals her true agenda. Why couldn't we get the WSJ journalist to comment on this, rather than a fringe editorialist?

Jun. 30 2011 10:31 AM
MP from Brooklyn

I agree with John A. No couple should get married if they don't want to. Your personal relationship is your business. Marriage is a legal form recognized by society. It's that legal form that entitles you to certain legal rights and responsibilities - like health care.

Jun. 30 2011 10:31 AM

Equal rights for equal responsibilities.Those who are going to produce and raise some children, should get some benefits to help, because society will benefit from a certain number of domestically produced children. Just like domestic manufacturing sometimes requires some subsidization.
But those who are not producing children, why should they get help from taxpayers? For what?

Jun. 30 2011 10:31 AM
twebeck from NYC

Because health plans are given/regulated by employers, many married couples stay together for many financial reasons including healthcare--some not even living in the same house even though they are married on paper. If we are given a choice of one person to share our healthcare plan with, it might as well be someone you like/love.

Jun. 30 2011 10:30 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Do the problems associated w/getting married in more than 1 state apply to couples who renew their vows years after their wedding if they do so in another state (although I hope few get divorced after renewing them!)?

Jun. 30 2011 10:30 AM
Susan from nyc

The insane contortions in this conversation prove the need for singe-payer health care. Get corporations out of medicine.

Jun. 30 2011 10:30 AM
Robert from NYC

You know what? NOT EVERYTHING is gray there is equally black or white. And yes that's the problem here ALL is treated as grey even when there is black or white. When a situation is grey it's grey but when there's a black or white--or better a this or a that--then it should not be treated as grey, and that's the problem on here. This very argument here that I'm articulating not very well is a point it fact: some things are black, some white and some grey.

Jun. 30 2011 10:30 AM
Will

It seems like the elephant in the room here is single payer healthcare. This woman is advocating an awkward patch-up fix to the bigger problem that employers shouldn't be the ones providing healthcare. This idea that everyone should just 'pick a buddy' to have on their benefits plan--wife, husband, friend, whatever--it seems would be a drain on the economy, with employers essentially getting one employee for the price of two any time they make a hire.

Jun. 30 2011 10:30 AM
Liza

@Swwnyc from Manhattan

I completely agree. I've realized that this is another nail in the coffin for single-payer health care activism.

Jun. 30 2011 10:29 AM
Swwnyc from Manhattan

We are having the wrong debate. You shouldn't need a job to have health benefits. Health reform is just a step toward making this a non-issue.

Jun. 30 2011 10:29 AM
Liza

@Swwnyc from Manhattan

I completely agree. I've realized that this is another nail in the coffin for single-payer health care activism.

Jun. 30 2011 10:29 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The wall to wall coverage is just beginning.

Jun. 30 2011 10:28 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

Great Idea on picking one person to share our health care
A sharing kind and just proposal

Jun. 30 2011 10:28 AM
carolita from nyc

Wouldn't all this be a moot point if we finally had national health care?

Jun. 30 2011 10:28 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

Great Idea
A sharing kind and just proposal

Jun. 30 2011 10:27 AM
John A.

Equal rights, not more than equal rights. With marriage here, drop the entitlement to the domestic partnership loophole.

Jun. 30 2011 10:26 AM
In a domestic partnership

@David from Newark:

That's not all you have to do for a domestic partnership. You have to swear that you live together and are in a relationship, provide evidence that you do, pay a fee, etc. If people are lying to their employers and gaining health care, their employers are not doing a good job verifying their documentation. It would seem that employees would want to be vigilant about this to keep health care costs down.

Jun. 30 2011 10:26 AM
jm

As long as health benefits are tied to the workplace, I support the option of adding a person close to you to your employment-related plan.

Would some of you support simply getting married for the benefits?

Jun. 30 2011 10:26 AM
jm

"It's a European attitude."

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Personally I love the "European" attitude toward separation of health care from the workplace.

Jun. 30 2011 10:25 AM
BL Producer

We've removed a few comments for violating the WNYC posting policy. Remember to be civil, and refrain from posting the same comment multiple times.
Thanks,
-BL Show-

Jun. 30 2011 10:24 AM
Leah from Brooklyn

jgarbuz, your comments on this topic consistently betray an insensitivity to couples with fertility issues and an obsession with the production of offspring being the only legitimate justification for marriage. On behalf of the numerous heterosexual couples who have the extremely painful experience of not being able to bear children for biological reasons, please maintain greater sensitivity and civility in your comments. Your dehumanizing and marginalizing of those who cannot procreate is inappropriate.

Jun. 30 2011 10:24 AM
In a domestic partnership

@David from Newark:

That's not all you have to do for a domestic partnership. You have to swear that you live together and are in a relationship, provide evidence that you do, pay a fee, etc. If people are lying to their employers and gaining health care, their employers are not doing a good job verifying their documentation. It would seem that employees would want to be vigilant about this to keep health care costs down.

Jun. 30 2011 10:24 AM

To Dale,

Why should the taxpayer give you a tax break? For what? Just for living together? Are you going to produce children for our society's future? Why should taxpayers be on the hook for it?

Jun. 30 2011 10:23 AM
donna from bklyn

could she explain the notion of needing to divorce twice? a hetero couple that marries in state a, renewed vows 5yrs later in state b would/could get divorced in state c if state c was their legal residence at the time of the divorce, no? how/where can same sex couples divorce?

Jun. 30 2011 10:23 AM
carolita from nyc

What ever happened to the term "common-law marriage?" It's been around since time immemorial. It's a good term, and makes perfect sense, and should be just as valid now as ever.

Jun. 30 2011 10:22 AM
Matthew from Astoria

I've always thought that if you want the legal benefits of marriage, you should accept the legal obligations of marriage. If you won't get married, you shouldn't be able to get the benefits.

Gay people were an exception because they COULDN'T get married. And straight people who didn't believe in marriage for whatever reason got to take advantage of the same arrangement made for gay people.

No more. This is marriage equality. If you want the benefits of marriage, get married.

Jun. 30 2011 10:21 AM
Aaron from NYC

This just further highlights the reason why i feel healthcare is a civil right.
As long as medical care is subject to profit the bean counters will seize on any excuse to maximize profit.
the rejection of domestic partner coverage has little to do with marriage or cultural equality and everything to do with $$.

May the next civil right granted be the right to health for every american.

Jun. 30 2011 10:21 AM

to hjs

Yes, the state should encourage some child production and child rearing, as children are the future soldiers, workers, tax-payers, etc. And they must be protected if the union dissolves. But that doesn't mean that marraige itself should be a state function.

Jun. 30 2011 10:21 AM
Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa from Brooklyn

Brian, can you do a segment sometime entirely on what's next question for the glbt community? I was interested in hearing more about those issues which where boxed out by marriage and the military.

Jun. 30 2011 10:19 AM
Dale from Brooklyn

As a straight woman who is living with a domestic partner, I have come up against this issue many times. The fact that the state/federal government can decide who should be able to visit you in the hospital and who can be added to your isurance policy at work is ridiculous. Marriage is an outdated religious institution that one shouldn't have to enter into in order for one's life partner to be recognized for tax breaks and medical benefits.

Jun. 30 2011 10:19 AM

jgarbuz

marriage is a legal contract as it always has been.
there is need for the state to regulate contracts

Jun. 30 2011 10:18 AM
Maria from Brooklyn

They should rename this show the gay marriage show. It's an important story - now it is overkill. Great move on. You'd think this was the only problem in the world today. I finding myself tuning out of this show more and more just out of boredom.

Jun. 30 2011 10:18 AM

My partner and I have been in a committed (hetero) relationship for 7 years and, without children, simply don't see any reason TO marry. But there's little difference between our arrangement and those of married couples, except perhaps that we're happier, and wouldn't have to go through yet another purely social rite -- divorce -- if someday we separate. This is a very common arrangement in Europe. Why does this country require marriage for recognition of a committed relationship?

Jun. 30 2011 10:18 AM

I don't think the state should give taxpayer benefits to any couples who can't have their own children. The whole purpose of marriage subsidies was to encourage the production of future soldiers, workers/consumers and taxpayers. The taxpayer shouldn't be helping people just because they are living together. Taxpayers pay for schools even if they have no children, because children are the future of the nation. Why should they pay for barren relationships?

Jun. 30 2011 10:17 AM
David from Newark

We need to consider the gross corruption in "un-married" benefit collection. I know many, many people who "sell" their benefits by claiming a domestic partner of either sex. All they need to do is declare they have a significant other to their employer and benefits are awarded to anyone who pays the employee under the table.

Jun. 30 2011 10:16 AM

WHEN DOES THE REVOLUTION BEGIN???

If you are not completely outraged by the current healthcare system you must be dead, sleeping or a health insurance executive!!!

We're SICK of being held hostage by the health insurance industry!!!

We DO NOT need health insurance, we need healthCARE!!!

ELIMINATE THE CORRUPT MIDDLEMAN...

SINGLE PAYER!!

THE CURRENT SYSTEM IS SICK!!

Jun. 30 2011 10:16 AM

It's oppressive that private companies hold so much power over their employees by holding the strings of their health insurance. It's puts the power of exploitation into the hands of private companies. Separate the vehicle of health insurance from employers.

Jun. 30 2011 10:15 AM

What I see as the end result of all this chaos is

(a) fewer native born children; and

(b) yet more enrichment opportunities for lawyers.

Jun. 30 2011 10:13 AM
Ed from Larchmont

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the legal entanglements that same sex marriage will produce.

Jun. 30 2011 10:09 AM

Marriage should never have become the business of the state - any state - in the first place! Those who want to register their union, for tax and other legal purposes, should be able to do so in a federal civil union contract in which certain responsibilities as well as certain legal benefits are enshrined.

By and large, the intrusion of the state in most domestic human affairs invariably has unexpected consequences, often negative ones.

Jun. 30 2011 10:09 AM
Susan from nyc

As a 65-year-old straight woman, I am deeply offended that the president stood up for "state's rights" on marriage equality. It cannot have escaped his notice that his parents would have been denied thi right to marry in large swaths of the country had his legal standard held sway.

Jun. 30 2011 10:08 AM
john from office

Wow day 4 of gay marriage. Brian is fixated with this. I agree with marriage equality, but this wall to wall coverage is too much.

Jun. 30 2011 10:04 AM

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