Monday, April 25, 2011

At tax time, my second-class citizenship rears up and smacks me in the face

Tax time is interesting in our household.

My wife and I are not married as far as the federal government is concerned.  Because we're a same-sex couple. 

We're married as far as our religion is concerned.

We're everything-but-married as far as the state we live in is concerned -- our state has a civil union law, court-mandated to be everything but marriage in name. 

This has some fascinating tax implications.

And they rear up and smack us in the face at tax-time.

Additional federal tax burden

If you have health insurance through your employer, and it includes coverage for family members, I urge you to take a quick look at your final paystub for 2010.  (Your most recent paystub will do, too.)

On Beloved Wife's paystub, along the bottom, there's a nice little grid that lists current and year-to-date total gross income, federal taxable gross income, total taxes, total deductions, and net pay. 

I'd like to draw your attention to total gross income and federal taxable gross income.   (Bear with me!) 

  • On the paystub you're holding, are there separate columns for "total gross income" and "federal taxable gross income"
  • If so, are your "total gross income" and your "federal taxable gross income" different numbers?  
  • If they are different, do you know why?
  • If they are different, by how much?  Is it a big difference? 

For us, there's a sizable difference between "total gross income" and "federal taxable gross income" -- for 2010, about $4000.   $4000 we never see in her paycheck.


Because we are not legally married in the eyes of the federal government.

Therefore, the part of my health insurance premium covered by my wife's employer is considered federally taxable income.

We have to pay additional taxes on my health insurance.  

Taxes that opposite-sex married couples don't pay.  If we were an opposite-gender couple who'd done the exact same things we've done -- just like our next-door neighbors did, in fact -- had a religious wedding in another state with our friends, families, and religious/spiritual communities, and then had a civil wedding at the Boro Hall -- we would not pay taxes on that $4000 for health insurance.

It's right there in black and white, every paycheck. 

And it's really obvious at tax-time.

Very different federal and state tax returns

As I mentioned, Beloved Wife and I currently live in a state with an everything-but-marriage civil union law.  (And every time we move, we have to dissolve whatever we had where we were living before in order to have whatever the state we're moving to has -- but that's another blog post.)

So we get to file a joint state tax form -- something we've never gotten to do before.

Civil unions in this state confer all the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, but they are most definitely not marriage, they are not recognized as marriages by some hospitals, some employers, or any courts.

But we do get to file jointly.  And we do get the same tax rate as civilly married couples.  That's nice.  And there's one box, marked "Married/civil union," which I also appreciate. 

And unlike on the federal level, Beloved Wife's employer's contributions to my health insurance are not taxable income in NJ.  That's also nice. 

Back to our collective paystubs and W-2s.  If you look at your own paystubs or W-2s, you'll find separate boxes for state wages and federal wages.

  • On your paystubs or W-2s, are your state wages and federal wages different numbers?  
  • If they are different numbers, how big is the difference?  Hundreds of dollars?  Thousands of dollars?  

I'm used to mine being somewhat different, but not dramatically different. 

Is this what you, personally, usually think about when you think about marriage equality?  Doing your taxes??

How your taxes might be very different but for an accident of whom you can marry under civil law?

Why does this matter? 

Why does this matter?  When there are LGBTQ people who lack access to decent health care, who are homeless, who go hungry, who are unemployed, etc?  Why do I care about marriage equality, and why am I worried about my tax burden?

Let me ask you this: When was the last time you were homeless or in danger of becoming homeless -- and why?

Would $1200 have made a difference, even in the short term?

This is an area where I have personal and professional experience.

My professional experience is with homeless families as well as with local and regional agencies. 

We know the causes of homelessness, folks.  They're not a big mystery.  And number one is poverty

An extra $1200 in taxes (or $200, or $500) is, in fact, enough to put someone who's living paycheck to paycheck -- or who is unemployed, as a lot of us are right now -- or who has a chronic illness, or who is uninsured, or who is a single parent, out of their housing.

$1200 can buy medication for someone with a chronic illness or acute medical need.  It can also be a major car repair, a week or more of child care, a lot of groceries.  

But that's actually the wrong question. 

The point is that paying more in taxes because of the gender of my partner is unequal treatment under the law.

It's discrimination, plain and simple. 

The point is that justice and equality are not limited -- as if there were a finite amount to be shared, like too little butter scraped over too much bread. 

As if equality were a limited resource which we had to fight each other for, to make sure we each got some sliver of.  

Oppressions are connected.  So are justice and equality connected.  And justice and equality feed on justice and equality.  We all win when we all win.

The fight for equal treatment under the law encompasses access to basic services, food, shelter, health care, human dignity -- and, yes, marriage equality.

There are people who think that when we've achieved marriage equality, we'll have achieved full civil and social equality.  I disagree.

Marriage equality will not make lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and transgender people fully equal under the law, or in the eyes of society.

Marriage equality is one very important stepping stone along the way.  It's not the be-all and end-all -- it's not full equality -- but nonetheless, it's important.

No longer paying taxes on my wife's employer's contribution to my health insurance premiums?  That's one place to start.  




Hystery said...

I'm thinking I need to address this more concretely in my history classes although I'm getting tired of having to explain the basic concept of equality to people who fail to get that equality can't happen when we have different laws for minority groups. The list of tedious, stupid, unfair things I have to address in class because people can't seem to figure out the basics of equality is itself becoming tedious. I run out of time in my semester.

staśa said...

If people don't get the basic concept, then they won't recognize the examples when they come across them in real life. I can see why you feel the need to provide further concrete examples, in addition to the concept and the usual examples. Thank you for the work you do, and for being a light for the students who need you and an inspiration for the ones who appreciate you.