Attentive readers may have noticed a while ago when I started referring to my robot boyfriend as my robot fiancé. As I’ve told various people, we’ve been cohabiting for years, so we’re functionally already married. But after graduating, getting legally married has become a good financial decision, for two reasons.
First, it lowers our taxes. The general principle is that marriage most benefits couples where one partner has much higher income than the other.1 Since I’ve been unemployed for at least the first half of 2018, marriage very likely benefits us this year.
Second, it lets me buy health insurance through my partner’s employer. This is fairly significant, because I regularly take medication for asthma, and this stuff is surprisingly expensive without insurance coverage. Obamacare guarantees that I at least have the option to buy healthcare, but as I found out when I looked at insurance plans last December, the options aren’t nearly as good as what you can get through employers or universities.
This month, health insurance was the more pressing concern, because my old plan was about to expire. We were going to go off to the courthouse to get married, until we realized there was an easier option. We got a civil union–ahem, a “state registered domestic partnership”. It was easier, because we only needed to find a notary public, instead of going to the courthouse. Also, about $100 cheaper. By opting for an SRDP instead of a marriage, we have effectively decreased the number of marriages in the world, which is one step closer to the destruction of marriage.
Of course, we’ll still get married later on, since the SRDP doesn’t affect federal taxes.
I’m very pro-marriage, which is not a trivial thing if you know where I come from. I was involved in queer student groups at the time that same-sex marriage was a big issue in California. Most students wanted marriage equality, and were devastated when it was struck down in 2008, but there was also a broad range of queer criticism of marriage equality. Marriage was the epitome of assimilationist LGBT activism. Or taking another angle, it was a distraction from other important LGBT issues like homelessness, bullying, or suicide.
The students weren’t necessarily wrong, but I would say that it was very easy for young students to downplay the material benefits of marriage, since they weren’t particularly concerned with stuff like taxes, health insurance, or immigration. People mostly talked about same-sex marriage as a symbol of societal acceptance. It was the weddings, it was guys kissing guys, it was couples visiting each other at hospitals. That’s certainly how same-sex marriage was marketed to the public. So you could see how some young activists could strongly support same-sex marriage, while also resenting it.
Some people have also argued that in an ideal society, there would be no state recognition of marriage, just private contracts between individuals. I hear that one from libertarians, mostly. Private contracts, if they’re highly customizable, sound like they would most benefit lawyers, and most hurt people who can’t afford lawyers. But enough said about libertarianism, there’s a whole comment section down there.
Okay, now, the health insurance thing, that shouldn’t be attached to marriage at all. Employee health insurance is a lot cheaper than Obamacare, because employers are legally required to purchase health insurance, and they buy just one plan to cover all their employees. Unemployed people should also be required to purchase health insurance, and there should be just one plan to cover all people, and the government should pay for those who can’t afford it. Obamacare got us a lot closer to that, but it’s not quite there. Universal health care now!
Among people I know, we occasionally joke about the “destruction of marriage”, a reference to the arguments that social conservatives used to make against marriage equality. It’s multi-layered joke: the first layer is the obvious absurdity of destroying marriage by getting married; the second layer is the fact that we all at one point knew someone who really did want to destroy marriage; the third layer is that the more obvious path to destroying marriage is by having an attractive alternative that isn’t called marriage. Say, a domestic partnership, or civil union.
When we got an SRDP, one thing I learned is that California’s domestic partnership laws are blatantly discriminatory. The only people allowed to get SRDPs are same-sex couples, or couples with at least one person over the age of 62.2 SRDP laws are a relic from the days when same-sex marriage was illegal and SRDP was “separate but equal” substitute, a political compromise. As a result, most straight couples are not allowed to participate in the destruction of marriage.
More seriously, there are some material reasons why f/m couples might want an SRDP. Maybe it’s just cheaper or more convenient, as it was for us. Or perhaps they’re in one of those situations where they’d have to pay a federal tax penalty if they got married. Or perhaps they moved from another state that does allow f/m domestic partnerships, and they want it to be recognized in California. But clearly, no f/m couples have wanted an SRDP badly enough that they’ve sued the state for discrimination… in California.
In the UK, there was a similar situation, and one couple sued. It took many years but they recently won. The couple’s motivation? Marriage has too much “patriarchal baggage”. I was laughing about this, but the more I thought about it, the more I support it in earnest. It opens the path for civil partnerships for all kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones. It’s a shame that when feminists have written about this case, they completely fail to mention or even leave room for civil partnerships for cohabiting siblings.
1. If you didn’t know this (or live in a country where it’s different), I can explain. Fundamentally, it arises from the fact that people with higher income have higher marginal tax rates. So if you could somehow pretend that your income was coming from two separate people, you would owe less tax. If you’re married to someone, then your taxes are calculated from your total income. So if your partner has zero income, it’s sort of like pretending your income comes from two separate people, which results in lower taxes.
However, the full picture is more complicated, because taxes always are. Single people and married couples have completely different tax brackets. Nonetheless, couples with disparate incomes will often benefit from marriage and couples with equal incomes are sometimes penalized for marriage, at least in the US. (return)
2. I believe the reason why senior citizens can get SRDPs is because there are a variety of situations where it might be advantageous for their social security benefits. For example, a widow might get social security payments based on their deceased partner’s income, and remarrying might cause them to lose those benefits. This is just a hypothetical example, and I’m not familiar with how the specific laws work. (return)