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?