Like many other readers of this blog, I have followed the progress of the Prop 8 and DOMA cases to the Supreme Court and waited with bated breath during the month of June to see how the cases would be decided.
On June 26th I rejoiced in decisions that brought the United States several steps closer to affirming the full equality of all human beings. I am happy that lesbian and gay couples can now get married in California, the state of my birth, the state where I still vote. As one commentator remarked, “This story has a happy ending—it leads to marriage.” I am also pleased that lesbian and gay couples will not be excluded from “marriage benefits” offered to heterosexual couples, simply on the basis of their sexual preference.
Still, the gay marriage victories raise other questions. Much of the rhetoric surrounding the push for marriage equality assumed that “marriage” is or should be “the norm” for all people. Those arguing for the right of gay people to marry often seemed to be saying: “We are just like everyone else.”
This assumption leaves out a whole lot of people—among them large numbers of single women. Recent statistics indicate that 38% of women in the United States between 15 and 44 have never been married. Like me, many of my friends—including women who are straight, gay, and bisexual—are not married and are not in couple relationships at the present time. When will our situation become part of “the new norm[al]?
Are we single by choice? The answer for most of us is “yes” if that means that at some point in our lives we have chosen not to stay in relationships that did not promote our full humanity and psychological and physical health. At the same time, most of us (at least at some point in time) have wished that we had a truly mutually supporting couple relationship. In this regard, we simply weren’t as “lucky” as some of our other friends. On the other hand, most of us enjoy the lives we have.
Despite the fact that there are so many of us, it is not always easy to be a single woman. Recently a single friend who was visiting me complained that in most cases she is the one who has to call friends who are in couple relationships to suggest meeting for lunch or dinner. This is my experience as well. Friends who are members of couples may have less need for intimate friendships and often seem to find it “simpler” to spend time with other couples, even when one couple is lesbian or gay and the other is straight. This seems to be as true for gay or lesbian couples as it is for heterosexual couples. If you are part of a couple and reading this, why not call a single friend today and ask her (or him) out?
As I said above, I rejoice that “marriage benefits” that are offered by the federal government to married couples will not be denied to lesbian and gay married couples. But my question is: why should single women (or men) be “punished” by the tax system for not being married?
On the programs discussing marriage equality on MSNBC which I avidly watched, the issues of taxes and health insurance were cited as among the “benefits” marriage equality would bring. Never once did I hear anyone seriously question the assumption that married couples should be entitled to “preferential treatment” as compared to single people when it comes to health insurance and taxes.
When I got married in the 1979, I told my tax accountant that I intended to continue to file separately, as my husband and I did not intend to pool our finances. He pointed out to me that this decision would cost me several thousand dollars in extra taxes. It did not seem “fair” to me at the time that my husband and I—who never had children—should be getting a tax break just because we were married. Of course we took it.
Today I compare myself to two gay male friends whose economic position is similar to mine. They are considering the tax benefits of getting married. The question I ask is why they or any married couple should be getting tax benefits simply for being married.
If anything, the fact that my friends are a couple means that they have fewer expenses than I do. They share a house, they share vacation expenses, and one of them may soon add himself to the other’s health insurance. When they get married, they will also lower their federal taxes. In effect, single people like me are being “punished” by the tax system for our choices or “luck.”
As we all know, the tax system is based on the assumption that the purpose of marriage is to have children. Yet today, many people who are married do not have children or do not have children living with them. So why the automatic tax break for married couples? Wouldn’t it be more equitable to give anyone who is caring for children truly significant tax breaks and to do away with all automatic tax breaks for married couples?
The only reason that tax breaks for married couples make any sense is the assumption that one partner, usually the woman in a heterosexual marriage, will be supported by the other. Yet as we all know, more and more married women with children are working—whether by choice, necessity, or a combination of the two. This is true of lesbian and gay couples with children as well. Women (or men) who “choose” to stay home with their children put themselves and their children at considerable financial risk, as they could at any moment—by divorce or death—find themselves required to reenter the workforce to support themselves and their children.
I think it is high time we had a rational discussion in the United States about overhauling the tax system to take account of changing social mores. No one should be forced by death and taxes to lose a family home shared with a partner. On the other hand, those who are married should not receive automatic tax benefits that are in effect “denied” to single people.
I am aware that such a rational discussion is unlikely to occur in a Congress controlled by white male Republicans who (it appears) wish to keep women barefoot and pregnant and who are happy to punish anyone (but especially any woman) who tries to live outside the “bonds” of patriarchal marriage. But now that marriage equality has been achieved on the federal level, it is high time that feminists and other progressives begin this conversation among ourselves.
Carol P. Christ has just returned from a life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she led through Ariadne Institute. The culture of ancient Crete, the last flowering of Old Europe, is one of the wellsprings of her spiritual vision, and there she participates in rituals that invoke Goddess and celebrate the connection of all beings in the web of life. Carol spoke on a WATER Teleconference recently. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.