Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why gay marriage wasn't a big issue until at least the 1990s

I’ll be reviewing Ben Shapiro’s book “Bullies” soon (the context is not what you think it is at first), but I did want to recoup a few impressions about the gay marriage “debate” as “conservatives” see it.

For most of my adult life, I didn’t see marriage as an important issue, and it didn’t get talked about very much at all until the 1990s. In the past, "we" just wanted to be left alone!

I felt that anyone who would be a partner, since he would be someone I would “look up to” (the upward affiliation process), would be forever independent, so the idea of marriage benefits seemed totally superfluous.

The military ban, however, when it became a public issue in the early 1990s, struck me as having much more importance, because the government could still compel military service from males if it wanted to.  Someone not fit to take on “equal responsibility” might not be able to claim “equal rights”.  That’s how I saw it.

The instinctive “conservative” reaction would be not to offer (marriage) benefits to someone who should take care of himself. 
The spousal benefits that we first heard about in debate often concerned medical issues, where one partner is hospitalized (and this issue had been more prominent during earlier years of the AIDS epidemic).
The tax benefit for gay couples seemed rather irrelevant in practice, because gay couples, more likely to be childless, were seen as having more disposable income. Often individual health insurance premiums were lower (without kids), even though people could not, in the past, get health insurance for spouses, and  employers could not provide the premiums for same-sex spouses with pre-tax dollars. 
Furthermore, many “not legally married” couples were actually better off because of the so-called marriage penalty, which was essentially repealed for lower income families in 2003 (but could return). See the Wikipedia link on this here

Social Security benefits for spouses typically did not matter since usually both partners depended on their own earnings records (see this). 

Estate and inheritance taxes were likely to be a bigger deal.  A surviving non-married partner, on inheriting a home or business, typically had to sell the business  or home to pay the tax, which a legally married spouse would not have to do.
When there really are dependents, particularly children (as with gay couples raising childrens – the “Will and Sonny” situation that we’re likely to see soon on the NBC soap “Days of our Lives” – previous post), the need for fairness in benefits becomes apparent.  That would also be true when a couple cares for parents.  If one wants to be “fair”, one would offer benefits only when there is actually an economic dependence in the family unit (including pregnancy), a kind of “means test”.
Social conservatives, however, seem focused on the format of a marital conjugal relation, the idea that it fits the biological format for potential procreation.  Something else is going on here, a need to feel superior, or more deserving because of the “risk” one takes or has been capable of taking. 
There’s another big reason for “marital equality”.  It’s the old “Sicilian Defense” problem: if you aren’t equal, you’ll be worse off.  People not in relationships recognized as legitimate by others tend to be on the front lines for sacrifice and expropriation to meet the needs of people with “more responsibility”.  My own period of eldercare showed me that. 

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