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Marriage, Money & Race

Well, yesterday’s post about marriage, money, and Suze Orman’s coming out generated a lot of attention. I hadn’t intended to post about it again, except that somethings come up that I should have expected, but didn’t address in my initial post (which was running long anyway). It came up briefly in the comments when I crossposted to my DailyKos diary. But Jim, over at Box Turtle Bulletin points to a more overt reference from Exodus International president Randy Thomas.

From another angle, this also does not help some in the gay activist community with their attempts to make this battle, over redefining marriage, a ?civil rights? issue. Suze and her partner worrying over their ?millions? doesn?t have the same ring or impact as watching young black people being knocked down by fully opened fire hoses and mauled by tax payer funded police dogs. I don?t think Suze or Tammy would ever make that comparison but some in the activist community do equate the marriage battle with the civil rights battle of the African American community and that is tragic.

Well, where to begin? For starters, who compared Suze Orman’s story to the particular moments from the civil rights movement that Thomas mentions? In all the coverage I’ve seen on the story, I haven’t come across that yet. Jim, in his post, does good job of taking apart Thomas’ pseudo argument by drawing a parallel to the story of Madam C.J. Walker (whose daughter and heir A’Lelia hosted salons attended by the queer literati of Harlem Renaissance, and was most likely a lesbian herself).

Still, if we’re going to get into the economics of inequality as they relate to marriage, we need to be clear about something: it also effects people who are neither wealthy nor white.

But before we go there, I need to here and just say that Thomas, given the organization he represents and the larger movement it belongs to, is probably the last person who should be lecturing anyone about civil rights. For starters, one of it proudly lists NARTH among its affiliations. This is the same NARTH that posted a defense of slavery on its now-defunct blog.

With all due respect, there is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America. It could be pointed out, for example, that Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle, as yet uncivilized or industrialized. Life there was savage, as savage as the jungle for most people, and that it was the Africans themselves who first enslaved their own people. They sold their own people to other countries, and those brought to Europe, South America, America, and other countries, were in many ways better off than they had been in Africa. But if one even begins to say these things one is quickly shouted down as though one were a complete madman.

Beyond that, it’s part of a particular religious political movement that can’t bring itself to condemn statements like that because they’d have to condemn similar statements from their own founders. And that movement is pretty much wedded to a party with an appalling record on civil rights.

That said, the economic realities created by the lack of marriage equality go far beyond the inheritance issue I addressed in yesterday’s post, and touch a lot more people less wealthy or white than Orman and her partner. The tax issue is but one of them, because legal spouses can inherit unlimited sums from one another, tax free, while same-sex couples must pay taxes on the property inherited from one another. It constitutes a “gift” because we’re legally related to one another.

I touched on some of the other economic realities of discrimination in a previous post.

It almost makes marriage seem more like ?welfare for heterosexuals? supported by the rest of us; a stipend, if you will, for being ?straight.? That?s the part that doesn?t get talked about.

It?s one that either doesn?t get brought up, maybe because people don?t particularly like talking about money, or opponents of marriage equality dismiss support for marriage equality by saying ?it?s all about money.?

Well, no. And yes. Anybody with a family (and I count couples who don?t have kids as families too) knows that it takes money to keep a family afloat, especially in times of crisis ? like during illness, or in the event of a family members death. Health care, in those cases, takes money. Bereavement leave in the event of a spouses death, or family leave in the event of an illness are about money in as much as they assure that the surviving partner?s job and income will be there to return to. It takes money, sometimes in the form of a partner?s inherited pension and Social Security benefits, to keep a family functioning after the death of a partner; sometimes even to keep a roof over the family?s heads.

Every single one of those benefits touches black people; black gay and lesbian people, that is. Contrary to what Thomas and some African American political and religious “leaders” would prefer to think (Wellington Boone and Michael Steele, I’m looking at you), we do exist.

Back in February of last year I posted about Irene Moore’s open letter to the African American Community on Marriage Equality, in which she writes:

African Americans have always had a tenuous relationship with the institution of marriage. Therefore, one can argue that the topic of marriage equality in the U.S. has always been a black issue. So I ask: why the opposition or indifference to same-sex marriage?

Social research shows that African-American same-gender households have everything to gain in the struggle for marriage equality and more to lose when states pass amendments banning marriage equality and other forms of partner recognition.

The social research Moore refers to is this study from the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization which works to empower black LGBT people and end racism and homophobia. The full report is available in PDF format, but highlights include:

* Forty-five percent of Black same-sex couples reported stable relationships of five years or longer on the U.S. Census.

* Twenty percent of Black men and twenty-four percent of Black women in same-sex households in the Maryland area work in the public sector but are denied healthcare benefits for their partners by the government.

* Same-sex couples do not receive the protections of joint rental leases with automatic renewal rights. Only approximately 55-57% of Black same sex couples own their own home.

These are LGBT couples and families, African-American families, who bear significant consequences for lacking the protections of marriage. Two years ago, I posted about how our families are hit in the pocketbook by inequality. The original article has disappeared into the ether of the internet, but here’s the NGJTF report it references.

While racism and anti-gay bias are indeed different, and while the situation of gay people in this country is quite different from that of Black Americans, anti-gay groups are wrong to portray legal protections for gay people as a threat to people of color. In fact, Census data indicate that Black same-sex couples may benefit more than White gay couples from the ability to marry, and will be hurt most by the slew of anti-gay family amendments that were approved in 13 states and considered but rejected by Congress this year.

Black same-sex couples have more to gain from the legal protections of marriage, and more to lose in all 13 states that passed amendments banning marriage and other forms of partner recognition. A groundbreaking study released in October 2004 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Black Justice Coalition shows that Black lesbian couples are parenting at almost the same rate as Black married couples, and that Black same-sex couples parent at twice the rate of White gay couples. They also earn less, are less likely to own a home, and are more likely to hold public sector jobs.

Three in five Black female same-sex households (61 percent) include at least one child of one or both of the same-sex partners. Black lesbian couple households are almost as likely as Black married opposite-sex couple households to include a child of one or both of the adults (69 percent). Nearly half of Black male same-sex couple households (46 percent include a child of one or both of the partners.

Black same-sex couples earn $20,000 less per year than White same-sex couples and are less likely to own the home they live in. They also earn less than Black married opposite-sex couples.

Black same-sex partners are more likely than White gay partners to hold public sector jobs, which may provide domestic partner health insurance. Eight of the 11 state anti-gay marriage amendments approved on November 2 ban or threaten domestic partner benefits provided through state and local governmental entities, such as Dekalb County, Georgia or Ohio State University.

Black same-sex couples are almost as likely as Black married opposite-sex couples to report living in the same residence as five years earlier, a key indicator of relationship stability.

Randy Thomas, the Bush administration, and the rest of the anti-gay industry (I’ll get into how profitable a business it is in a later post), would like nothing better than for Suze Orman to be the “face” of same-sex marriage. But there are plenty of black, same-sex couples who qualify just as well.

The face of same-sex marriage includes couples like Saundra Heath-Toby and Alicia Toby-Heath, who were among the plaintiffs in the New Jersey Supreme Court case.

We have been a loving and committed couple for 15 years. We live in Newark, New Jersey, and our church, Liberation In Truth Unity Fellowship Church, is a part of our extended family. We attend church services and participate in church events, and we are active in our community.

For us, marriage is not a political issue or an academic issue. This is a real issue about our lives. Our burdens are heavier and our expenses are greater simply because we can’t get legally married. We can’t get family health insurance, so we have to pay two deductibles instead of one. And in order to protect ourselves in case something happens to one of us, we have to go through the expense of hiring a lawyer to prepare legal documents. We have to go through all that just to get the same legal protection that most couples get when they say “I do.”

Our relationship is just like many others. We take care of each other. We think about what the other needs. We work at our jobs, and we pay our taxes. But if something should happen to one of us, all that can mean nothing if the state, the hospital, the insurance company, or the employer doesn’t recognize our rights. We pay first-class taxes, but we’re treated like second-class citizens.

We are your neighbors next door. We ride the bus and subway with you. We sit next to you at lunch. We work next to you. We have a home, two sons and 5 grandchildren. And we have a family.

If two complete strangers met each other last week and got legally married today, they would have more rights under the law than our relationship has after 15 years of being together. That’s not fair, and that’s why we’re here today.

That’s how they describe their relationship. In Evan Wolfson’s book Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry, their story is mentioned in the first chapter of the book.

Alicia Heath-Toby and Saundra Toby-Heath also live in New Jersey and have been a couple for more than fifteen years. Alicia is a deacon and Saundra an usher in the Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, an African-American congregation, and they regularly participate in church cookouts, picnics, dances, and family activities as well as services. The women have children and grandchildren, bought a home together in Newark, and pay taxes. When Alicia had surgery, Saundra took weeks off from her work as a FedEx dispatcher to take care of her. Denied access to family health insurance and required to pay two deductibles instead of one because they are not married, Saundra and Alicia want to enter a legal commitment to match the religious one they already celebrated in their church.

“If two complete strangers met each other last week and got legally married today, they would have more rights under the law than our relationship has after fifteen years of being together. That’s not fair,” Saundra and Alicia told their lawyers at Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund. “We pay first-class taxes, but we’re treated like second-class citizens.” They worry about their kids and each other, and they want the best legal and economic protection they can get for their family. That protection comes with marriage.

The face of same-sex marriage includes couples like Lisa Kebreau and Mikki Mozelle, plaintiffs in the case currently before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Mikki (center), 30, is an applications analyst for XM Satellite Radio. Lisa (left), 38, is a teacher with the Prince George’s County public school system. They live in Riverdale in Prince George’s County and have been together for over four years. Lisa gave birth to a boy in September 2004 and a girl in December 2005. They are also raising together a 16-year-old son from Lisa’s former marriage.

Marriage is important to Mikki and Lisa, not just for its legal protections and benefits, but also so their children can appreciate the value of family and commitment: “We want our boys to understand that marriage can be the foundation for a stable home and the love of two parents,” Lisa says. “We want our boys to feel accepted by society. We want them to know there is nothing unworthy at all about our family, and that having two mommies dote on them is the same as having a mommy and daddy. We just want to be able to marry and have the same benefits and protections as any other parents.”

And how are they affected? The couple shelled out $6,000 in legal fees to establish wills and medical directives that give them a tenuous hold on a few of the protections of marriage; the same protections that a heterosexual couple can get for considerably less, with a lot more thrown in. How much less? The cost of a marriage license, which is about $55 in my part of Maryland. What’s the difference? It’s like I said earlier.

And before you start in on “legal documents,” remember Lisa Kebreau and Mikolle Mozelle spent $6,000 on legal documents to give them just a few of the rights that heterosexuals can get for the cost of a marriage license and a short wait. The cost of a marriage license is $55 in my area of Maryland, and the wait is about three days. That and a blood test gets you about 1,040 federal rights and protections in addition to whatever you get from the state. And those rights, the federal ones at least, will follow you anywhere you go. Marry in Maryland, and you’re married in Mississippi, Montana, Mexico, and Moldavia. And no matter what happens, you don’t even have to draw up so much as a will, because your spouse will automatically inherit a portion of your estate. (Business licenses in your name are inheritable too, as part of those 1,040+ rights and protections you got for $55 and a 3-day waiting period.)

By contrast Kebreau and Mozelle spent something like 109 times the cost of a marriage license, for legal documents that get them a tenuous hold on maybe three of the 1000+ benefits and protections of marriage, and the process of drawing up their documents probably took more than three days. And even then there’s no guarantee those documents will be recognized or honored when presented at the hospital, as happened to Bill Flanigan. And the few rights you may secure at a much higher price, you must leave at the state line if you so much as take an overnight trip or a vacation, because you can’t take them with you. So, if you’re gay, you pay more, wait longer, and get less. And what you get may turn out to be nothing, but you won’t know that until you really need it. Nevermind that some states have tried to nullify even those few meager, shaky legal protections. Meanwhile, you keep contributing to Social Security, pensions, and health insurance your partner can’t share or inherit; basically subsidizing heterosexuals who do get all the rights and protections of marriage, at a discount compared to what the “gay tax” gets you.

Of course, there’s a bigger issue here than money. I’ve heard it expressed before by Leonard Pitt.

I know also that some folks are touchy about anything seeming to equate the black civil rights movement with the gay one. And no, gay people were not kidnapped from Gay Land and sold into slavery, nor lynched by the thousands. On the other hand, they do know something about housing discrimination, they do know job discrimination, they do know murder for the sin of existence, they do know the denial of civil rights and they do know what it is like to be used as scapegoat and bogeyman by demagogues and political opportunists.

They know enough of what I know that I can?t ignore it. See, I have yet to learn how to segregate my moral concerns. It seems to me if I abhor intolerance, discrimination and hatred when they affect people who look like me, I must also abhor them when they affect people who do not. For that matter, I must abhor them even when they benefit me. Otherwise, what I claim as moral authority is really just self-interest in disguise.

? I believe in moral coherence. And Rule No. 1 is, you cannot assert your own humanity, then turn right around and deny someone else’s.

Jim puts it pretty well in his post.

If fire hoses and mauling police dogs are the measures by which you judge a civil rights movement, then I can truly thank God that in America at least, we fail those tests. You?ll have to look elsewhere for it. (Russia, Poland, Iran, Nigeria and Nazi Germany come to mind.) All we have is Stonewall. And while Stonewall represents a turning point for the gay rights movement, it?s not Selma.

But the legitimacy of one?s civil rights isn?t found in brutality or the lack of it, nor is it diminished by success or fortune. It is found simply in the recognition of what is right and just.

I heard it again last night, when I heard someone recite part of the speech Spanish prime the minister gave in support of same-sex marriage in his country.

We recognize today in Spain the rights of same-sex couples to enter in a marriage contract. Before Spain, they allowed this in Belgium, Holland, and, as of two days ago, Canada. We have not been the first, but I sure you that we will not be the last. After us, there will be many more countries motivated, honorable members, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality.

It is just a small change to the legal text, adding but a paragraph, in which we establish that marriage will have the same requisites, and the same rights, when the couple is either of different sexes, or the same sex. It is a small change in the letter of the law that creates an immense change in the lives of thousands of our felow citizens.

We are not legislating, honorable members, for a far away and unknown people. We are extending the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and our families: at the same time, we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.

In the poem ?The family? our poet Luis Cernuda lamented:

?How does man live in denial, and how in vain

By giving rules that prohibit and condemn.?

Today, Spanish society responds to a group of people that for years have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, and whose identity and freedom has been denied. Today, Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their freedom.

It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone?s triumph. It is also a triumph of those who oppose this law, even as they attempt to ignore it, because it is the triumph of freedom. This victory makes all of us a better society.

? Today, we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves, and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the humiliation and unhappiness. Today, for many, comes the day evoked by Kavafis a century ago:

?Later was said of the most perfect society

someone else, made like me,

certainly will come out and act freely.?

Creating tolerance. Putting a stop to humiliation and unhappiness. I’m not sure that Randy Thomas or the movement he belongs to have a vested interest in putting a stop to the humiliation and unhappiness gay & lesbian families face because our families lack the basic rights and protections other families enjoy. I’m talking about the humiliation and unhappiness of having to launch a legal fight before you can carry out your spouse’s funeral arrangements, or losing everything you shared together because you have no rights and can establish to no rights. I’m talking about the humiliation of being turned away from door of your spouse’s hospital room, or the unhappiness of knowing your family can’t access the same benefits and protections every other family enjoys.

I mean the unhappiness and humiliation of having to subsidize benefits and protections for other families that your family is specifically denied. Be it a matter of inheritance, health insurance, family leave, social security or any of the circumstances in which families find themselves in need of those benefits and protections.

Randy Thomas and the movement he represents seems to be invested in making sure that our families experience more of that kind of humiliation and unhappiness in the future. That puts him precisely on the same side as the people who aimed the firehoses and commanded the dogs he mentioned earlier. That he fails to recognize that illustrates his ignorance.

That he assumes that black gays and lesbians were not among the people who were hit by those firehoses and attacked by those dogs not insults the memory of people like Bayard Rustin and Barbara Jordan and countless other black gays and lesbians who worked in the civil rights movement and sometimes paid a terrible price for being out or having to be silent, but signifies an amazing degree of arrogance on his part.

I am a black man who grew up in the south, steeped in the history of the civil rights movement. I attended a university that was desegregated as a direct result of that movement, and lived in a dormitory where white students rioted over the enrollment of two black students decades earlier. My life is better than it might have been because of many people who fought for justice and equality on my behalf, including gays and lesbians in the civil rights movement, did on my behalf before I could fight for myself.

I am a gay man who was born just months before Stonewall. I grew up during a time when far more information was available than had been before, because people stood up for their right not to be treated as less than human. Because of that I not only survived, but today have a life and a family that wouldn’t have been possible before that movement. And I owe that to the people who fought on my behalf, including African Americans and other people of color in the gay rights movement, before I could fight for myself.

I can fight for myself now, and for others too, like the families mentioned above. I am a black gay man who knows himself and knows his history. I do not need people like Randy Thomas to tell me my history, and I will not let people like him ? black or white ? appropriate it.

Not without a fight.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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