29 April 2011

A Nine Billion Dollar Argument for Marriage Equality

For the past month, I have been performing various functions as a consultant for Marriage Equality New York (MENY) with respect to their 13th Annual Gala. It feels good to be doing activist and advocacy work again, and also to be working on a project.

What I didn't expect to find was an amazing individual, whom MENY will be honoring at its signature event of the year: Edith "Edie" Windsor.

What does this have to do with the fiscal argument for marriage equality, you might be asking yourself? Quite a bit, actually.

Part of what I'm doing for MENY and its gala is something I do best: information gathering. In seeking out information about one of its honorees at the event (Edie), I came across the complaint she filed in federal court (Southern District of New York), challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

You see, Edie has had to pay over $360,000 in estate taxes to continue living in the very same home that she and her late wife and partner of 44 years have maintained throughout their relationship.

In reading Edie's complaint, I noticed a fleeting reference (in paragraph 69) to a report by the United States Congressional Budget Office, dated 21 June 2004. Most marriage equality advocates are familiar with the 23 January 2004 report issue by the United States Government Accountability Office, in which they found a total of 1,138 federal laws where marital status is a factor for benefits and responsibilities of married couples. The report is a revision of the GAO's 1997 report, which found 1,049 such federal laws.

Paragraph 69 of Ms. Windsor's complaint against the United States government is a refutation of the fourth reason the US government used in enacting DOMA:
69. The federal government's final rationale for enacting DOMA is that the law advances the government's interest in preserving scarce government resources. Id. at 18. However, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples will increase annual net federal revenue rather than deplete "scarce government resources." [citation omitted, emphasis supplied]
The citation was to a PDF document located online. At first, I thought the reference was to the 2004 GAO report. Luckily, I took another look at the URL and noticed it was different, so I copied & pasted and went to the report.

The report verifies the assertion in the complaint. The report was written shortly after Massachusetts became the first state in the country to specifically legalize same-sex marriages.
Recognizing same-sex marriages would affect federal revenues through both the individual income tax and the estate tax.
* * *
Revenues would be slightly higher: by less than $400 million a year from 2005 through 2010 and by $500 million to $700 million annually from 2011 through 2014. (page 2) [emphasis supplied]
What does this mean? Let's do the math, shall we:

If the United States government recognized same-sex marriages, it would have received 2.9 billion dollars in tax revenues from 2005 through 2010. If you count the next four years (through 2014), that comes to nearly six billion dollars, using the 2004 estimates.

And that was with just one state (Massachusetts) providing for marriage equality. Imagine what those numbers would be now, with the addition of four more states and the District of Columbia (and hopefully soon, the sixth State of New York).

Further, there is this little admission by the United States government buried within the report:
...allowing same-sex marriages could result in behavioral changes that would alter the number of gay and lesbian people in partnered relationships. (page 3) [emphasis supplied]
Presumably, the report is hinting at what we all know: allowing gays and lesbians to marry would strip the religious-right-wingnuts of their argument that homosexuals are a promiscuous lot undeserving of equal protections and treatment under the law.

Further gems in the report include
Currently, about one in three lesbian couples and one in five gay couples live in a household with their own children.5 Those proportions might rise if same-sex marriages were legalized. (page 4)
* * *
Recognizing same-sex marriages would increase outlays for Social Security and for the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program, CBO estimates, but would reduce spending for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and Medicare. Effects on other programs would be negligible. Altogether, CBO concludes, recognizing same-sex marriages would affect outlays by less than $50 million a year in either direction through 2009 and reduce them by about $100 million to $200 million annually from 2010 through 2014. (page 5) [emphasis supplied]
In the best-case scenario, the total savings by the US government for expenditures if same-sex marriage were to be recognized is another billion dollars, over a ten-year period.

As a result, legalization of same-sex marriages would save the SSI program about $100 million a year by 2014, CBO estimates. (page 8)

That's another billion dollars over a ten-year period.

In all, CBO expects, federal spending for Medicaid would decline by about $400 million (or about 0.1 percent) in 2014 because of same-sex marriages and by smaller amounts in earlier years. Because states pay about 43 percent of the program’s total costs, they would realize savings of about $300 million in 2014. (page 9) [emphasis supplied]
This amounts to savings of nearly 3.3 billion dollars over a decade. Additionally, the report indicates a savings of nearly one billion, combined, between savings in Medicare and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

And yet, despite the government's fiscal woes, House Speaker Boehner insists on spending $500,000 to defend upholding these, in the words of the ACLU & NYCLUnine billion dollars to the nation's coffers between savings and income generation.

In my opinion, apart from Speaker Boehner seriously needing to get a clue, I think the $500,000 he has authorized in spending to defend DOMA would be put to much better use by refunding Edie the money she should never have had to pay in the first place, due to blatantly unconstitutional prejudiced discriminatory law.

Nine BILLION Dollars—what possible justification is there for not acting on a simple measure that would promote more stable relationships and infuse the government with much-needed cash?

In response to The Washington Post

I posted the following as a comment to Ms. Marcus's editorial that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post:

Ms. Marcus,

I feel your editorial to be misrepresentative of the facts at hand. There are two major issues the LGBT community had with King & Spalding's retention by House Speaker Boehner to defend DOMA:

First, King & Spalding has, traditionally, been an ally of the LGBT community, and touted its diversity rating and support of LGBT-issues to prospective clients and law students seeking to work for the firm. Defending a law that denies LGBT people access to over 1,138 federal rights and benefits was an enormous slap in the face to the community and in direct contravention with King & Spalding's long-standing support of the community.

Second, the contract into which Mr. Clement entered King & Spalding with the House of Representatives placed illegal (in at least two states) and unenforceable conditions on the workers of a firm the size King & Spalding. To wit, ALL King & Spalding employees, including the gay partners of King & Spalding who had been with the firm for many years longer than Mr. Clement, were prohibiting, via Mr. Clement's representation of the House in defending DOMA, from advocating or lobbying against DOMA.

The partners, associates, and non-lawyer staff at King & Spalding who oppose DOMA and are supportive of LGBT equality, such as the lawyers from King & Spalding's Atlanta offices who serve on the Board of Directors of the Stonewall Bar Association, including its president, would, essentially, have had to resign their positions either from the firm itself or from their positions they have long held in the LGBT community.

I would also imagine that King & Spalding, given its long-standing support and partnership with LGBT organizations, is actively involved in matters and/or has clients whose representation would violate paragraphs 4(f) and 4(g) of the Contract governing King & Spalding's representation of the House in defending DOMA.

To me, this second reason is most compelling, and in my opinion is most likely the cause for King & Spalding's withdrawal as counsel.

Mr. Clement has not been bullied into withdrawing from representing his client. King & Spalding. He has signed on with a boutique law firm, where his presence makes him the seventh lawyer in the firm. His representation will continue, in a firm that is not encumbered by LGBT-supportive partners and their clients who long pre-date his joining the firm.

Upon re-examination of the impact of being retained to defend DOMA and the conditions placed upon it and its employees by the House of Representatives, King & Spalding made the decision it should have made in the first place.

[Note: The last two paragraphs have been edited and thus appear differently than the comment I originally left in response to Ms. Marcus's editorial; no other changes have been made save the last two paragraphs, which appeared as a single paragraph in my original comment.]

20 April 2011

Open Letter to Kelly James, Ph.D.

So the gay community is up in arms over a soundbite provided by Kelly James, Ph.D., who is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Winthrop University and who serves as faculty advisor for GLoBAL, Winthrop University's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Ally League. Apparently, so much so that she's receiving hate mail. It's more unfortunate that people are riled to such levels as they are unable to conduct a civil discourse.

If one takes the time to read articles instead of just headlines, one would find out that Professor James is the bloody faculty advisor for the gay group on campus. So, while her concerns are real and her heart is in the right place, unfortunately, her mind hasn't followed suit. Quoth she, in whole,

But, my first thought was that, "I've got to let my students know" so that when they are out and about in Rock hill that they, you know, act straight, And that’s a sad lesson in 2011 to be teaching young people. I mean, it’s been off the books as a mental illness since 1973.

I'm sorry, Professor James, but you couldn't be more wrong.

Your first thought should not have been advising your students to have to "act straight," even if meant to be sarcastic. (On an entirely different matter, there is the whole debate over just what "'acting straight" entails but I am loathe to examine such things at this time.) Such a suggestion, even if made sarcastically, is not the answer and inappropriate.

While I am thankful of your support and know your heart is in the right place, backing up your statement by stating that you were misquoted or that your remarks were taken out of context, and that you were being blatantly obviously sarcastic, is still an inappropriate response to such situations of violence.

Yes, you should be concerned for your students' safety and yes, absolutely you should let your students know about the attack so they can be vigilant.

But hiding who truly are and repressing how they act is not the answer to the problem that exists, which only has been highlighted by this most unfortunate incident.

I am an atheist. But when I see someone celebrating their faith in their home or at their church or even on the street, I scream out at them, "Go on!" because they are being who they are and are free to express themselves as they are. They are not having to repress something, which can lead to grave psychological trauma.

I have personal experience with such grave psychological trauma. I repressed who I was and nearly didn't survive as a result. It was only when I started expressing myself and not hiding behind the "normalcy" of what society expected of me that I was able to flourish. You can read about it in my blog post, It Gets Better.

And no, I'm not advocating that people run out naked in the streets. But there should be a degree of freedom to act, behave, and express one's self in an appropriate manner without having to fear for their safety.

To this end, instead of advising your students to "act straight" in Rock Hill, if I were you, my first thought would be to let my students know of this travesty and devise an appropriate plan to respond, as loudly and vocally as permitted by law, to such an incident. To stand up and say, "We're not going to take this from anyone." To instil courage and confidence in my students, and say "When would you like me to be marching the streets of Rock Hill in support of your right to be who you are?"

That, Professor James, should have been the response from you.

I hope that my response to your involvement in this incident is more reasoned and resonates better with you than the emotional outcries of some of my brothers and sisters.

We are all human beings and creatures of the universe and as such we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. That you have not been treated as such is most unfortunate and a travesty that serves only to worsen this situation.

It is my hope that what I have written here will heal some of the wounds that have stung you in recent days.