politics, social justice

Hold Your Breath, Illinois

So I’m just going to come out and say that I’m really hoping Illinois legalizes gay marriage today.

I originally hail from Minnesota (Long, long ago, in a winter far away) and I was very proud when they came in number 12 for marriage equality not too long ago. I’m ready for all the states that I personally identify with to be as cool as I imagine them to be. Any time now. Just as soon as this happens, and then Chicago stops being kind of segregated in a racist kind of way. And then maybe if we could stop closing schools and subsidizing trashy umbrellas designed to represent historic icons. Then everything would surely be perfect here in the Windy City.

But anyway, this would be a really good first step.

The thing with marriage equality is, I kind of feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I say that, hey, this is an important civil rights issue, and needs to be addressed. Here in Illinois we’re waiting for the Illinois Legislature to decide to vote on it, today, before they adjourn, and that’s a big deal. But I can’t help but feel that if we don’t pass it today, we’re going to pass it eventually. Chicago is a very Democratic place, and Democrats tend to be pretty pro-gay marriage at the moment. So that’s great, and I’m really happy about it. Yay to gay couples who fit snugly into hetero-normative social roles!

But the other thing is this: I am totally, one hundred percent behind a policy of marriage equality, because that sort of seems to be the best we can do in the world we live in right now. But I also think it’s important to question whether this whole marriage thing really ought to be such a huge legal advantage. Stay with me.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (a somewhat shady for-profit enterprise that is very invested in legalizing gay marriage at the moment) there are 1,138 distinct benefits, rights, and protections provided by law on the basis of marital status. This includes social security benefits, crazy tax benefits, family and medical leave laws, immigration privileges, and healthcare privileges (including the often-used example of hospital visitation rights and decision-making rights.) And I agree that if straight married couples have these rights, then so should gay married couples. Without question. But my question is, why do these benefits hinge on marriage at all?

According to this article, an unmarried woman can end up paying a million dollars more in her lifetime for health insurance, taxes, etc, than her married counterparts. This article found that single people often feel discriminated against in the workplace, where they are more frequently asked to work evenings and weekends than their married counterparts. A lot of the benefits conferred on married people (especially the financial benefits) are considered to be a sort of encouragement by the government to get married, because many people see being married as automatically better than being single. Some of the social security benefits of marriage were put into place under the assumption that single people paying into the fund would get married eventually, and they would be recouped their losses then.

In reality this just isn’t the case. Almost half of all Americans are single (at least legally speaking), and there is a growing trend of people who choose not to get married. Like, on purpose. And these people are actually pretty happy, whether you believe it or not. What’s interesting is that, according to this article by Maura Kelly, single people are actually more likely to contribute to society, even though they get less compensation for it. They are more likely to volunteer, to spend time with neighbors, participate in public events, and even frequently work the same jobs as married people while getting paid less. Not to mention they don’t get the same kinds of benefits–for instance, a single person cannot put someone who is important to them on their health insurance, while a married person can include their children and spouse in the package. Nor can they necessarily designate beneficiaries for things like Social Security and 401(k) plans.

To me, this seems pretty unfair, and really unnecessary. Why the tax breaks? Why aren’t the important people in an unmarried person’s life just as important legally and financially as the important people in a married person’s life? I haven’t heard a good explanation yet.

I’m waiting.

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