Marriage and Financial Inequality: Why Gay & Lesbian Couples Pay More

Same-sex couples seek marriage rights and legal protections, from accessing healthcare benefits to transferring wealth

black gay couple married on beach

Together 10 years, Moore and Harley exchanged wedding vows a beachside ceremony in Los Cabos, Mexico in 2012

It was a day many couples dream of for Mignon R. Moore, 42, and Elaine Harley, 43, who exchanged wedding vows at a beachside ceremony in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2012. The native New Yorkers marked their 10-year relationship by obtaining a marriage license from the state. Unfortunately, they are not receiving all the benefits of a legal marriage because they have been living in Los Angeles for the past six years, where they are recognized not as spouses but as domestic partners.

“We only had a small window of time to get married in California before Prop 8 [the ballot initiative that stripped same-sex marriage], so we never got the opportunity,” says Moore, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Most people take for granted the financial safety net a legal marriage creates, says attorney Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project director at Lambda Legal, a national organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and people with HIV.

“There are roughly 1,100 benefits, rights, and protections conferred on married couples on the federal level. And hundreds more benefits, rights, and protections that married couples receive under state law,” says Taylor. Among these is the right to joint parenting, joint adoption, status as next-of-kin for hospital visits and medical decisions, and inheritance of jointly owned real estate.

The marital benefits couples such as Moore and Harley receive from a state that recognizes their union doesn’t extend across state lines. Moreover, the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which defines a marriage as a union between one man and one woman, restricts the federal government from recognizing any state-issued marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The financial consequences of this can be grave. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case challenging DOMA filed by Edith Windsor, 83, who paid more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance after her wife, who she had been with for 40 years, died in 2009. Had their 2007 Canadian marriage been recognized federally, no estate tax would have been owed.

Historically, states have decided who can marry within their borders, says Michael Crawford, director of online programs at Freedom to Marry, which is leading the campaign to overturn DOMA nationwide and is working to win civil marriage in battleground states including Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, Iowa, and New Jersey.

“Civil Marriage–much like divorce–is not governed under any religious jurisdiction, contrary to much of the public debate over marriage equality. To date, eight states have civil unions or domestic partnerships. Another nine states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex couples to enter into a civil marriage, and 29 states have banned same-sex marriage. If DOMA is struck down, the federal government would be required to treat same-sex couples legally married in their state the same as any married spouses,” says Crawford.

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  • Dwight Haskins

    Who is regulating the bank regulators? And why are government watchdogs such as the Government Accountability Project, POGO and others not really assisting whistleblowers as they proclaim?


    I am a federal government whistleblower who was retaliated against for blowing the whistle to expose wrongdoing by top officials at the FDIC. Shockingly, I have been unable to get any journalists at the New York Times or Washington Post to investigate my inside story as of yet. Shame on Bob Woodward if he has allowed the White House to chill his interest. I can show racial discrimination by the top 10 banks and by government regulators.

    Here is the link to my newly published book about the inside story of how government regulators caused the financial crisis. The book also is to inform the public how justice has been denied.

    I can show cronyism between regulators, former regulators, top consultants, and government watchdogs is what led to the financial crisis. When you get regulators and those to be regulated so cozy together (i.e. sleeping in the same bed), you get a dysfunctional, unfair, and corrupt capital system.

    If Congress or journalists really desired to pull back the curtains, they would reveal corruption at the highest levels of government, consultancies, and banking industry not seen since the SEC and FDIC were first created. We have a new type of robber-barrons, too tightly connected with regulators to enable any effective policing or regulatory oversight to produce badly needed reforms.

    I headed up the large bank oversight program for the FDIC for a decade up to the financial crisis. I certainly know what happened at the agency and know where the skeletons are buried and hidden from public view. I tried to alert the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and was ignored. I alerted the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the FDIC, ombudsmen, and Inspector General as to how top officials were burying crucial warnings about the emerging crisis under the rug to protect the guilty.

    I am dismayed and a bit shocked that our newspaper and television journalists are not interested in investigating what should be one of the most important stories to this day as to why the financial crisis occurred. All readers, contact me if you want to know the truth. Obviously, I could only put evidence that was not going to get me hauled up before a judge and fired while I was still heading up the FDIC’s large bank program.

    Unfortunately, it appears that most American investigative journalists are forced to straddle the fence by appearing to be a wolf, but are still in sheep clothing. They care not about exclusivity or whether bits and pieces of the story has made its way to the public domain. What they care about is filling a quota and meeting a publication deadline.

    I am amazed there is a lack of interest by the press to unearth the quiet conspiracy so far successful by the government to hide the damage it has caused American homeowners and investors throughout the world. Heck, there were non-stop stories and investigations by the press about John Edward’s affair with Rielle Hunter. How does that possibly compare to the harmful consequences to the public caused by a handful of top regulators who purposely failed to perform their jobs?

    My account certainly has to be the most shocking, definitive account in identifying the primary culprits and key, hidden factors that led to the financial crisis. I don’t want to blow my horn too loudly but if a journalist or consumer watchdog wanted a reportorial tour de force worthy of a Emmy, there perhaps, is no better means to explore what I have to share.

    Sadly, had government officials listened to what I had said, billions of dollars could have been saved. Of course, the harm and disruptions the mortgage crisis caused homeowners may have been spared as well.

    How often does the press get to see the details of the “inside story” where they can make it public for all to see?

  • connie

    Get a “Clue People A Real Marriage is between Man and Woman”..Surely these two ladies have “Bible Knowledge”…..duh

    • Sad for us

      Stop with this religious crap and let people (adults) live their lives. Take a look at the Minister in Georgia who preached homophic rheteric yet sleeping with “boys not men”. Sick crap!!

  • Guest

    Black unemployment is double the national average, but Black Enterprise is focused on sinful homo marriage??? No wonder black people are always at the bottom. They have no valuable focus or real priorities.

    • AH

      Black people are always at the bottom because of resistance to change and closed minded thinking. Once folks like you are weeded out through natural selection, we will be a stronger Black community.

  • Straw

    Good article. Please correct the incomplete first sentence though before it is published. It reads: “It was a day many couples dream of for Mignon R. Moore, 42, and Elaine Harley, 43, who exchanged wedding vows at a beachside ceremony in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2012.” Instead, you might say: “It was a day many couples dream of. For Mignon R. Moore, 42, and Elaine Harley, 43, their wedding vows at a beachside ceremony in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2012, was simply beautiful.”

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