Equal Benefits for Same-Sex Partners
It appears from an editorial in my hometown newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that faculty at state universities in Pennsylvania will soon be getting access to domestic partner benefits. This is great news, but not as great news as the editors seem to believe.
I have a quibble:well, really more than a quibble:with the way that the editors describe these benefits as putting”gay and lesbian faculty members on equal footing for benefits with colleagues at public and private colleges here and across the nation.”(my emphasis) These benefits might be called many things; for example,”useful”or”beneficial,”not to mention”overdue.”However,”equal”is not a word to use in describing these benefits.
Even when employers provide the exact same benefits to their heterosexual and lesbian and gay employees, what those employees receive is often demonstrably not equal. The federal government and many states step in between the employer and the employee to ensure that same-sex relationships are not put on equal footing with different-sex relationships. To this end, they tax the value of benefits:most notably expensive health insurance benefits:when provided to same-sex partners but not when provided to the spouses of married, heterosexual employees.
Lesbian and gay employees can avoid the federal income tax only if they can show that their partner is also their”dependent”for tax purposes, something that heterosexuals are not required to do. Moreover, all of the uncertainty surrounding the tax treatment of same-sex couples makes even this showing difficult. My sister, who is in a lesbian relationship and a stay at home mom for her three children, clearly qualifies as my sister-in-law’s dependent for tax purpose. But my sister-in-law had to fight with her employer to stop withholding tax on the value of the health insurance premiums paid for my sister:after she had to fight with her employer to provide those benefits to begin with and then had to go to Connecticut to enter into a civil union because a New Jersey domestic partnership simply was not sufficient evidence (at least for her employer) of their commitment. So, use whatever other adjective you think best describes the belated extension of domestic partner benefits to lesbian and gay employees, just don’t call them”equal.”