Did you see the recent New York Times story titled, "The high price of being a gay couple"? The article describes, in detail, many ways in which gay couples are financially disadvantaged compared to married heterosexual couples. For example, gay couples are typically shortchanged with regard to health insurance, Social Security benefits, pension benefits, potential contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA), and relief from estate taxes.
The comparison of the economic positions of gay couples to straight couples was worth pursuing. But it neglects a much bigger issue - the privileging of marriage as a gateway to such essentials as health benefits, and as a ticket to a treasure trove of benefits and privileges. Even if every couple could marry, that would do nothing for all of the people of every sexual orientation who are single. There are now nearly 96 million unmarried Americans 18 and older - 43% of the adult population.
In every category that the reporters analyze, singles are shortchanged. They do not have access to health insurance through a partner's plan. They don't have access to anyone else's Social Security benefits. Singles cannot even give their own benefits to any survivor in their own generation, even though they may have worked for those benefits for the same number of years and the same level of accomplishment as a married colleague (whose benefits do go to the surviving spouse). Singles cannot transfer unlimited assets without paying estate taxes. They do not receive pension benefits from anyone else and no one else can contribute to their I.R.A. And on and on.
Singles don't come out ahead on income taxes either, despite what you may have heard. That so-called "marriage penalty" is calculated by comparing two sets of couples - one unmarried and one married. A single person reporting the same taxable income as a married couple filing jointly always pays more in taxes. Remember that married couples can be rewarded with those lower taxes even if only one spouse works, so it is not just a matter of comparing two workers to one.
There are other perks for partners, too. Couples - whether gay or straight - who are offered car insurance, club memberships, vacation packages and anything else at a discounted rate are being subsidized by the singles who are paying full price.
The Times reporters also mention "the emotional costs" to gay couples "of living with these added complexities." For single people, gay or straight, add all of the singlism - the stereotyping and stigmatizing of people who are single.
We are all humans. It is time to let our humanity, rather than our marital status, be our qualification for basic dignities such as health care and for equal protection under the law.
[For another take on the Times story, I recommend Nancy Polikoff's post. Thanks to Rachel for the heads-up on that.]