Thursday, February 24, 2011

The right to marry

Wall Street Journal:

One of the cases that prompted the [Obama administration's Defense of Marriage Act] shift was filed by Edith Windsor, who sued after the federal government refused to recognize her 2007 marriage to her partner, Thea Spyer. After Ms. Spyer's death, Ms. Windsor faced a $350,000 estate tax on her inheritance from her partner, a tax she wouldn't have incurred had her marriage been recognized by the federal government.

Because US history is to a large degree the story of very wealthy people asserting their rights as a group -- leaving everyone else to play catch up -- any attempt to discriminate against groups that include very wealthy people are often frustrated until that group can be reconstituted along class lines.

In the case of gay marriage, the stigma attached to homosexuality has until only recently proven itself superior to the appeals of upper class gays to take their rightful place amongst their wealthy counterparts -- to marry whomever they want.

If US history is any guide, we can expect that what is likely gained by all gays in the realm of marriage will not translate so well to other spheres, like health services, which can be delineated much more easily by the criteria of class. In other words, in the case of marriage, it will be hard to deny to poor people this right that is increasingly seen as inalienable for the rich -- but others will remain out of reach.

11 comments:

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

People can marry very easily, whether it's 2 men, 2 women, a woman and a man, a man and a donkey, a woman and a jaguar, whatever. Plenty of places will marry an odd couple (odd = not Ozzie & Harriet).

This is one of those issues that gives me a headache. People get agitated over something that is so trivial... why do people insist on being "married" anyway? Living together as a unit is the essence, the "marriage" is the formality -- not the other way around.

Nothing stops two animals from cohabiting if they wish to do so. I don't see what the problem is. In the list of social malfeasances worked by governments, this has to be right up there with jaywalking or spitting in public.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

PS: The estate/inheritance argument isn't that solid. Any good tax lawyer or accountant can set up an arrangement that is fully legal and which leaves the same estate to an "unrecognized loved one" (common law gay/lesbian partner) and nothing can stop it as long as all the t's are crossed and the i's dotted.

If I were gay I would wonder why people go to such lengths to receive The State's approval of their sexuality. Use a little creativity and there's not a single obstacle worth whinging over... except the sanction of a State that doesn't care about you anyway.

Anonymous said...

CFO: Why make gays pay (a good tax lawyer) for something that heteros get for free?

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

I'm hetero and I have to pay for a good tax lawyer or accountant like anyone else.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

If I wanted to leave my entire estate, the value of which is nearly completely negligible, to someone who isn't a relative -- I have to do it through a tax lawyer or accountant, or by researching it myself at a law library or other place where there are tax codes and estate practice manuals.

What do I get for free here? I'm not following you.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Alternatively you could make up your own will and testament, have it notarized, and be done with it. Of course it may be challenged, but it would be challenged whether I were gay, hetero or bi. The challenge relates to greed and someone else wanting my estate, not to my sexual behavior when I choose to have sex.

Which leaves the pregnant question: why is this more important than the thousands of other issues plaguing America right now?

Todd S. said...

The marriage issue wouldn't be an issue if the government didn't make it one. Legislating a relationship between two people is the problem. Assigning societal privileges to that relationship is a huge problem. Marriage confers not only this inheritance tax benefit, but tax benefits overall. Creditors view married couples more favorably, married couples are allowed to pool income and assets on credit applications.

I'm not gay myself, but if I were to live with a woman and even if we were in a 100% committed relationship, as long as we lack that piece of paper with the governments stamp of approval on it, we're in a separate class from a married couple.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

And I, living alone, am in a separate class from a married hetero couple.

It's all so unfair. I demand the State provide me with a wife! Only then will the State be egalitarian, when it ensures everyone is coupled-up, legally, under State imprimatur.

So is marriage a business deal or a close personal, emotional, sexual relationship?

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

PS to Todd:

Assigning societal privileges to that relationship is a huge problem.

No doubt. But is it the most unjust assignment of societal privilege, is it the one we should be working to correct?

How about others unfairnesses higher up on the societal privilege scale? Wouldn't they merit our attention first?

And what about the idea that the societal privilege as a thematic problem devolves from the State and its arbitrary preferences?

I submit we could look higher up the societal privilege chain and find problems whose solutions will solve this DOMA/gay marriage Q without even thinking further on DOMA or gay marriage.

Get my drift?

(I'm not going to give examples because I'd prefer that people think on the problem, and not be spoon fed)

Brian M said...

The problem is, Charles, that many of these foundational issues and solutions may be unsolvable in the here and now. For a "victim" of DOMA with limited time and energy, scuttling DOMA might be a worthy interim goal. Even if it is not the biggest issue to you.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

You misunderstand me, Brian. And somehow have turned my argument upside-down.

The point isn't that it's not a big issue to me. The point is that it's not about selfishness. Whether it's big or not to me personally doesn't really matter. I'm not arguing the point that it's irrelevant to Oxtrot, thus irrelevant to all.

I'd offer the rejoinder: why can't you find a harmonious relationship to be durable and valid within your sphere of society (meaning: your friends and others whose blessing/approval you would seek) without a formal marriage? There are plenty of vehicles in the American legal system to give a gay or lesbian couple the equivalence of a hetero State-sanctified marriage. I listed a few of them already in this thread.

If it were just about what Oxtrot wants, then I wouldn't spend any time whatever commenting or thinking on this, because I'm not gay. I would just say, "doesn't concern me, time to move on." But I do care about people being happy and feeling validated. I'm just saying, there are other ways to get such validation, and I'm wondering why someone who dislikes the State and its oppressive power would, on this subject, be looking for the State's approval. It just doesn't make sense to me.