Press

Denial of Marriage Rights Costs Oregon Couples Thousands of Dollars Per Year, Report Finds

Date: 
April 13, 2004

Disparities in Wide Range of Areas Including Income Tax, Survivor Benefits, and Estate Taxes

MEDIA CONTACT:
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
media@theTaskForce.org
646.358.1465

PORTLAND, April 14, 2004 - As millions of married couples are signing and sending off their tax returns prior to the April 15 tax day deadline, a groundbreaking report released today by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute reveals that same-sex couples face widespread economic disparities and hardships because they are denied equal marriage rights. The report takes real-life situations commonly faced by Oregon couples and compares the economic benefits afforded to married couples to those given to same sex couples. A same-sex couple residing in Oregon is profiled to illustrate the real-life cost to them of not being able to marry.

The report, entitled Economic Benefits of Marriage under Federal and Oregon Law, is the second in a series that documents the disparities gay couples face under federal and state income tax, Social Security benefits, gift tax, estate tax, worker's compensation, and line of duty death benefits. It was authored by Terence R. Dougherty, an attorney with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP.

"Same-sex couples pay more in taxes and get fewer protections and benefits in return," said Matt Foreman, the Task Force's executive director. "These injustices aren't hypothetical - instead, they are being inflicted right now on hard-working, tax paying Oregon couples, often at times of family tragedy and loss. This report quantifies the cost to one gay Oregon family."

Brian Garza, 45, and Timothy Leighty, 54, an Oregon couple, pay $1,929 (25%) more each year in state and federal income taxes than a married couple earning the same amount because they cannot file a joint return. The analysis also finds that if Brian died as a result of an injury at work, his spouse would receive $448 per week in workers' compensation benefits. Because Brian and Timothy cannot now marry, however, Timothy would receive zero workers' compensation benefits. "These hard data demonstrate the significant economic cost of marriage discrimination," said Roey Thorpe, Basic Rights Oregon's executive director.

This report is the second in a series that documents the economic disparities same-sex couples face due to marriage discrimination. The first report, released April 5, examined disparities under Massachusetts and federal law. To download free copies of these reports, log on to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force publications library at http://www.TheTaskForce.org/library. The reports, along with many other useful marriage equality resources are also available from the Task Force Marriage Information Resource Center at http://www.TheTaskForce.org/marriagecenter.

"Why should we have to pay more in taxes while being cut out of the social safety net programs we've been paying into our entire lives?" asked Thorpe. "As Oregon residents, all we want and what we deserve is equal protection under the law."

Another disparity that Brian and Timothy must endure is the unequal distribution of Social Security benefits. Brian is the main breadwinner, and Timothy earns significantly less than this partner. If Brian died after the two were allowed to legally marry, Timothy's monthly Social Security benefit would be $1,567. However, based solely on his own earnings, Timothy will not be entitled to receive any Social Security benefits. Additionally, if Tim were disabled, he could receive benefits based on Brian's earnings as early as age 50.

The report examines a number of other scenarios, including treatment under the estate tax, the gift tax, and line of duty death benefits. It underscores that creating civil unions for same-sex couples falls far short of providing benefits equal to those enjoyed by married couples.

"Because so many important financial rights and responsibilities - like federal income tax and Social Security benefits - are federal protections based on marital status, civil unions do not and cannot provide anything remotely resembling what comes with marriage," said Sean Cahill, Ph.D., director of the Task Force Policy Institute. "There are 1,138 federal protections associated with marriage, but civil unions will not give gay couples access to a single one."

Given the passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which allows the federal government to withhold recognition from same-sex marriages performed in any state, in the short run same-sex marriages in Oregon will not be recognized by federal bureaucracies. However, many believe DOMA to be unconstitutional, and it is possible that in the future DOMA will be struck down or repealed. It is also possible that a President and Congress more supportive of equal rights for gay and lesbian people will afford these federal protections to married same-sex couples. "While married gay couples in Oregon may not be able to immediately access those federal protections," Cahill said, "if they are allowed to marry they have the potential to access these protections in the future. However, if same-sex couples are only allowed to form civil unions, under the current legal framework they will not be able to access any federal benefits or protections."

The report was authored by Terence R. Dougherty, an attorney with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP, a prestigious 168-lawyer firm based in New York City. The firm was ranked #1 in the nation for the pro bono contributions of lawyers in 2002.

To contact the Task Force or to arrange an interview with Brian Garza and Timothy Leighty, please call Task Force Director of Communications, Sheri Lunn at 323-857-8751 or Press Secretary, Roberta Sklar at 917-704-6358.

To contact Basic Rights Oregon, call Rebekah Kassell at: office 503-222-6151 or cell 503-753-3884.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.