Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fiscal Conservatives: Ending DOMA is a responsible step

Robert and Carl* are a gay couple who have been together for several years. They live in a state that permits same-sex marriage, and recently tied the knot in a Church ceremony. Like many other married couples, they have established a stable home and are active members of their community. Carl is healthy but lives with a manageable medical condition. Like approximately 1.1 million other Americans, Carl is HIV positive.

Today, HIV positive people are living long, normal, healthy lives…as long as they receive proper medical care. Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART), a combination of three medications, is now the standard treatment to battle HIV. While quite effective one of the major downsides of treatment is cost. Carl’s three medications run about $2,200 per month…a figure that is quite typical. This, of course, does not include approximately six blood tests and physicians appointments per year, bringing his treatment costs to about $3,000 per month.

The US Congress recognized the steep cost of treatment when they reauthorized the Ryan White Care Act in 2009 by a vote of 408-9. This Act authorizes the expenditure of over $2 billion annually to assist with HIV outreach and treatment. It is the ‘payer of last resort,’ and income guidelines are applied towards recipients, but still it is estimated that some 30% of HIV positive individuals receive some assistance through this program.

More comprehensive coverage, of course, is available through private insurance. More than 25% of Americans work for an employer that offers domestic partner benefits; 51% percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner health benefits; and 37% of all Americans live in states where some legal protection of same-sex partner arrangements exist (marriage, civil unions, or domestic partner benefits.)

Back to Robert and Carl.

Robert has a full-time, secure job, and both he and his employer contribute towards Roberts’ health insurance. When Robert married Carl, they looked forward to Carl’s being added to Roberts policy as a spouse, thus providing not only coverage for Carl’s HIV medicine, but for the entire range of normal health care for which the typical American might visit the doctor or the hospital. Robert, who had been married before, had already had his children (and formerly, an ex-wife), on his family policy.

Enter the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).

Under DOMA, the federal government agencies are prohibited from recognizing the validity of same-sex unions of any kind, even when they are authorized under state law. This is a significant change to federal-state relationships, since Family Law issues have always been decided at the state level. As a result, in Rhode Island, Alabama, and Alaska first cousins may legally marry, while in Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania such marriages are illegal. The Federal government dos not take a stand on this issue: they accept first-cousin marriages from Alaska as legal, but would reject the validity of first-cousin marriages illegally performed in Pennsylvania. In other words, the federal government normally accepts the states’ definition of marriage as authoritative in the matter of marriage.

Under DOMA, however, the federal government will not consider a same-sex marriage, validly performed under state law, as a valid marriage under federal law. And that has serious federal income tax implications.

When Robert added Carl, his lawful spouse, to his family health insurance, his HR office informed him that since Carl was not a spouse under federal law, Robert would have to pay taxes on “imputed income” to Carl. “Imputed Income is the addition of the value of cash/non-cash compensation to an employees’ taxable wages,” and both federal income taxes and FICA (Social Security) taxes are assessed against the value of this imputed income.

Robert was shocked when he saw his next paycheck. In order to cover the imputed value of providing health insurance to his spouse – an action that is never applied to an opposite-sex spouse – his employer had withheld an additional $450/month from his paycheck.

As a middle-class income-earner, the loss of an additional $5,400 annually was too much to absorb. Robert removed Carl from his health insurance policy, and Carl applied for – and received – HIV coverage under the Ryan White Act.

The sad reality is that without DOMA, Carl could have been added to a private insurance policy just as any other spouse could be, without the punishing effect of federal taxes associated with imputed income.

Because of DOMA, American taxpayers will now pay a minimum of $36,000 annually for Carl. And this is just a single instance of a pattern that is replicated across the nation.

There are over 1.1 million HIV positive Americans. 30% receive assistance through the Two Billion dollar plus Ryan White Care Act. Close to half might currently or eventually be eligible for private insurance coverage through spouses, civil unions, domestic partnership arrangements, or company policies.

Fiscal Conservatives, take note: one of the single most significant actions you could take to reduce spending and taxpayer burden, while improving health care provisions for hundreds of thousands of Americans, is to repeal the provision of DOMA that prohibits federal recognition of valid state marriages.

The only real question is whether you believe that punishing homosexual couples is a more important public policy goal.

*Robert and Carl are not their real names, but they are real people and the dollar figures and story are entirely accurate.


CDC 'HIV Prevalence Estimates -- United States, 2006' MMWR 57(39), 3 October 2008
AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) - Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Fact Sheet
U.S. Census Bureau. “County Business Patterns: 2000.”
Human Rights Campaign, “State of the Workplace: 2006.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New Hampshire House Preserves Marriage Equality, 201-135

More good news from my home state...about an hour ago, the New Hampshire House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prohibited gay marriage in New Hampshire. CACR 28 would have defined marriage by restricting it to a man and a woman.

As a Constitutional Amendment, it required a 60% margin in the legislature...and it did not even gain 50%. It was rejected 201-135, a big change from last fall when Marriage Equality squeaked through the state legislature by less than a dozen votes. While this may show significant movement in the right direction, the cheering is a little dampened by the fact that 60 legislators did not show up to vote. If they were all "anti" Marriage Equality, then there has really been very little movement at all. We will need to see who was absent before we draw too many conclusions. [UPDATE: 40 republicans supported Marriage Equality this time around, suggesting an actual shift...]

Had this passed, it would have gone on to a vote by the public, which was the main argument that CACR28's supporters kept making: that 'the people' ought to be able to vote on marriage. It apparently never occured to these legislators that 'the people' dont get to vote on "rights:" we never subject questions of free speech, or Miranda Rights, or gun ownership, to majoritarian votes, because majoritarianism is the antithesis of liberty and rights.

A concurrent effort to ask Town Meetings to adopt a "let the people vote resolution" effort is failing miserably. Even in reliably Republican Towns, such as Rindge, town meeting voters are removing and rejecting Town Meeting Warrant items seeking a public vote on Marriage Equality. Winchester (my home town), Rye, and Deerfield have all rejected it in recent days.

A second vote to repeal the bill that established Marriage Equality last fall failed by an even bigger margin: 210-109.

Friday, February 05, 2010

For my Partner, Scott, a native Louisiana Cajun.....


Laissez les bon-temps rouler!!!

************WHO DAT!!!!!***********

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Obama on DADT: A Pathetic Coward

According to this morning's Washington Post:

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen also are expected to announce the creation of a group to assess how to carry out a full repeal of the decades-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which requires gay soldiers to keep their sexual orientation secret.

But Gates and Mullen are also expected to tell senators that it could take years to integrate gay men and lesbians fully into the military, defense officials said. Two appointees will be named to oversee a group that will draw up plans for integrating the armed forces, according to sources familiar with the Pentagon's deliberations on the subject. The planning effort is expected to take up to a year.

Among the issues to be addressed by the group: whether gay soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will face any restrictions on exhibiting their sexual orientation on the job; whether the Pentagon will be obligated to provide for their domestic partners; and whether straight military personnel could be compelled to share quarters with gays

What a foot-dragging, anemic, crock of shit.

"Years to implement?" It's really very easy: Just end it.

The military already has MANY gay and lesbian members SERVING AND FIGHTING AND DIEING. It is *NOT* a question of figuring out "how to let them in." THEY ARE IN ALREADY. Straight soldiers are ALREADY COMPELLED to share quarters with gay soldiers, just as white soldiers are COMPELLED to share quarters with lack sodiers (gasp!)...and military preparedness and unit cohesion does not suffer.

But individual soldiers do suffer.

A group of soldiers are on leave or having a little down time at a local watering hole. Many of them comment on the tail they hope they get, or wolf-whistle at the waitress they call 'sweetheart,' and comment among themselves as to how hot she is. This of course, is normal, red-blooded American Boy-talk, right?

But one of the soldiers in their midst has to pretend. He has to force a smile, or force a stupid comment or become 'suspect' by the others. He can't be who he is, or say what or how he feels. Because if he does, he loses his job, his health insurance, his honor, his pension, his pension.

Elsewhere, a group of soldiers are talking about how they miss their wives and children, and sharing stories of Christmas and breakfasts and vacations, and how they can't wait to see them again. But another soldier is forced to lie, saying there is no one in his life, no one to go back to. If he admits to having a partner, he avoids or invents that partner's name...bBecasue if he shares his longing, too, he loses his job, his halth insurance, his honor, his pension.

Oh, he's good enough to shoot and fight and die. He's good enough to serve, and receive medals and honors - As long as he lives in a closet of denial, as long as he shares nothing, as long as he avoids friendship with others in his platoon, as long as he holds everything so close to his chest that no one gets in.

President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief of the Aremd Forces and as the Head of the Executive Branch, with one penstroke you can end DADT dismissals just as Harry Truman integrated the military. It's time to do it NOW, before another American hero loses his or her lifetime contribution to our nation because of your cowardice.