CAMPOut:Fay's Rehoboth Journal
|by Fay Jacobs|
|An unfair sister act
As my sister and I celebrated at a family party last week, we got to talkingand she was shocked at some of the things she learned. So I'm going to share them with you to put a human face on this ridiculous special rights business.
My sister Gwen has been married to her husband Rick for 19 years.
I have been partnered with Bonnie for 23 years as well as married for two years in the eyes of the Canadian government.
These two sisters and their spouses have all paid into social security since bell bottoms were hot the first time and Lyndon Johnson was president.
If, heaven forbid, something happens to my sister or her hubby, the surviving baby boomer can collect a social security death benefit, then cash the 401K and keep the house (and all 18 cats in it) without inheritance taxes. If there was a pension involved, the surviving spouse could claim it, which would be important, because 18 cats eat a lot of Friskies. The merry widow or widower might not be so merry but at least they could keep themselves in cat litter.
If something happens to me or Bonnie, one of us would be stuck paying a crippling tax bill on the spouse's IRA. We'd be coughing up a staggering estate tax on half the damn house, and not receive a penny in Social Security death benefit or any survivor benefit from all the years our spouse paid into the system. In fact, if one of us had a pension (sadly, we aren't that lucky), it would just...zzzpppft, disappear as if no one remained behind needing to put dog kibble on the table.
But that's not the worst of it.
If one of our quartet doesn't die, but is merely very sick, the difference is even more appalling. Say my sister or her mate get cat scratch fever and need expensive nursing home care. The healthy spouse will still have a place to live since my sister's ailing husband could qualify for Medicaid without having to sell his home. That's because the government recognizes that his legally wed wife and all her cats would still need a roof over their fuzzy heads.
If Bonnie or I had to go to a nursing home, the healthy spouse would have to sell the house in order for Medicaid to kick in. Great. One of us and a pair of Schnauzers will be living in a camper in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The government would probably make better provisions for a surviving Schnauzer than a remaining gay partner.
Even as we worry about future tragedies, we see daily inequities. My sister's husband and I each have a job with health insurance benefits. And my sister is covered under hubby's health plan.
My employer wanted to facilitate domestic partner coverageand I was willing to pay for my mate's insurance, but the insurance company nixed the idea. And even if they had agreed, I would have had to pay federal income tax on Bonnie's premium amount as if it were salary. If my sister's husband had been treated this way he'd have developed distemper.
So since we can't get insurance for Bonnie, even IF we are willing to pay the extra tax, she has to rely on the Veteran's Administration for her health care. Frankly, it's a darn good thing this particular gay was in the military.
And speaking of the armed services, my sister's husband got a student deferment during the Vietnam era and never served, so he didn't have access to the VA home loan benefit. If he had, he could have financed their home through a lower cost VA loan.
Well, Bonnie did serve during that conflict (albeit stateside) and applied for a VA loan for our first house. The real estate agent snidely told her she could only borrow money on half the cost of the mortgage because technically she was only buying half the house. Useless benefit.
It's enough to make you sick, but it had better not. When my sister was hospitalized with an intestinal ailment (hairballs?), there was no question that her husband could have round the clock access to her hospital room.
When Bonnie was laid up for seven weeks several years ago, I had to come out of the closet to roughly a platoon of people before I was granted family status, and though I sat at Bonnie's bedside every day for what seemed like a millennium, I still got the fish eye at every shift change.
The really frightening fact remained that while I pitched in day and night as an unpaid member of her health care team, any one of the hospital staff could have tossed me out on my butt, legally unable to visit, much less help. Just thinking about it gives me kennel cough.
So you have four people here. Two couples. And a lotta house pets. Both couples have sworn to the for-better-for-worse thing, and in the ensuing years have actually seen better and worse and better again.
Gwen and Rick were able to have a wedding in their own country, with all of their friends and family in attendance. Bonnie and I had to sneak across the border to Canada and leave our friends and family to join us via digital cameras.
To his credit and my enduring thanks, my Dad paid for both weddings.
So there is it. Two long term relationships. Two couples tossing the occasional flea bomb. Two happy households. Except for our choice in companion animals, we're pretty much the same.
And each couple forks over the requisite taxes. But according to the Human Rights Campaign, Gwen and Rick have over a thousand important, life-altering, financially and emotionally important rights that we do not have.
Special rights my ass.
Cat people, dog people, gay people, straight people. It's all the same. But it's not.
America may be the land of the free, but you have to pay Uncle Sam through the nose for your benefits. If you are straight, you get what you pay for. If you're gay, you don't.
I'm so mad I'm foaming at the mouth and may need Rabies shots....
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Fryinga Rehoboth Beach Memoir and can be reached at www.fayjacobs.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 6 June 3, 2005