Thursday 16 April 2009

Gay rights mean...what?

Polls show that Americans support civil unions. But the American people don’t really grasp what it entails.

Heterosexual couples enjoy many rights which gay couples often don’t. They come in five different categories.

First, is the category which I call “Other People’s Money”. This means that government changes a policy in such a way that private corporations must fork over money to gays even if they don’t want to. The big item here is insurance coverage. This is another reason why we need universal health coverage – it is stupid to make health coverage dependent on employment or marriage.

Second is the “government money” category. That means that government changes policy in a way that means that you, as the taxpayer, give new money to gays. This includes compensation for service-related deaths, income tax filing status and deductions, tax-free property transfers, Social Security, veteran’s pensions and disability, disabled vets tax exemptions, and relocation benefits for military families. There are some issues which could be either Other People’s Money or governmental money, depending on the rules: these include survivor benefits and continuation of health care for surviving spouses.

Third is the category which means that gays get more rights under government regulations than they do now, even if no money is necessarily involved. These include organ donor issues, next-of-kin status, parental rights, access to school records, alimony, child custody, adoption, foster care, homestead laws, water rights, spousal assets as a factor in determining need for government aid (VA benefits, housing, educational loans, farm price supports), name changes, domestic violence laws, spousal privilege for criminal witnesses, prison and hospital visitation, conflict-of-interest rules, medical decisions, and funeral decisions.

Fourth: this category involves areas in which the government would need to impose regulations on private corporations. This would include condominium laws and bankruptcy.

The fifth category involves problems which could be resolved by a simple consensual contract, such as child support (if the law allows it), shared property, prenuptial agreements, and wills and inheritance.

That’s why I was warning people a few weeks ago – the Iowa ruling said what the marriage rule was NOT, namely one-man-one-woman. It didn’t really say what the rule IS: which rights are now to be provided to new couples?

We need fair statutory law to give gays and lesbians their rights. Conservatives have a legitimate issue: all of this means that the rest of us will probably pay more money. But at the end of the day, gays have a legitimate point that we cannot simply throw our hands in the air and insist that “we just can’t afford to treat gays fairly”. Not acceptable.

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