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Ciao DOMA!?!

June 4, 2012

Holy crap!  A federal appeals court just unanimously ruled the defense of marriage act (DOMA) unconstitutional!  I’m sure this decision will be appealed, but for the moment – wow!  This musty piece of legislation is the one that specifically allows the federal government to not recognize my marriage.  I’ll admit that up until we had kids, the impact it had on my day to day was small.  We were both healthy, working and immortal.  Probate court, social security survivorship benefits and the like didn’t weigh heavily on our minds.

With the addition of dependents and a change in the sources of our family income, however, DOMA freaking sucks.  Practically, the impact DOMA has on my life is an increased financial burden – with a wee bit anxiety that kicks in the dark moments when one thinks about exactly how fucked our family would be if one of us were to die; our stuff will be stuck in probate and have the shit taxed out of it because we’ve not paid a lawyer to create an appropriate set of state-specific documents that will need to be continually updated to mitigate the ridiculousness.  Mostly though, we simply pay way more in federal taxes than our straight friends, a little because the best rate we get is claiming a head-of-household rate – not married filing jointly – and mostly because of the health insurance.

Health insurance you ask?  Let’s take a moment here to talk health insurance:  Even though I’m in a friendly state and married, to cover my family, I have to prove a domestic partnership because my marriage isn’t recognized – thanks DOMA!   To prove I’m domestically partnered, sometimes HR will begrudgingly take a copy of our marriage certificate, but often I need proof of co-residence (lease & joint utility bill) and shared finances (joint bank or credit card account, and sometimes also that we’re beneficiaries of each-other’s life insurance or retirement accounts to prove a long-term financial commitment).  Then I’ll need to sign anywhere from 1 to 3 affidavits holding me completely financially and legally punishable if I’m lying or if I don’t inform HR when (not if) our partnership dissolves.  By this point, the HR person is typically somewhat apologetic.  Finally, I pick the domestic partner + family insurance (which has a slightly higher co-pay than the family one) and I just nod when they warn me that the actual value of the insurance (usually between $15 and $20k a year, mostly paid by the university) will be reported to the federal government as income (so post-doc salary + $15k in imputed benefits income), increasing our tax burden by about $2500 (thanks DOMA!).  And I’m lucky – the university is under no obligation to provide health insurance to domestic partners (and in some states – hey there Michigan! – is explicitly NOT allowed to do so with state tax money, such as the cash that funds the state universities).  I was surprised to learn that my co-workers don’t even need to bring in their marriage certificates – even if their spouse is foreign born they can just put down a name and a social security number.  Think of the possibilities for abuse!

So no more DOMA – assuming it isn’t appealed or whatever (it’s only been a few days) – means I just got a huge-ass raise!!  I can finally hire the lawyer and get those documents drawn up – but wait!!  No more DOMA means that I don’t really need those specially-crafted state-specific documents any more!!  Instead of an existential crisis at take-off, I can flip though the in-flight magazine.  Drinks are on me!

p.s. Some places recognize that being taxed at a special rate is bad for their employees and “gross up” wages so that employees with the same job take home the same salary.  Some people at some places get their panties in a twist about this.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t advocate for your place to “gross up” because you want your place to be competitive so that you can recruit the best possible trainees (because the cynic in me doesn’t really believe that DOMA is going to disappear quite this easily).  Send this page to your HR department:


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