Gay “Poverty”: The New York Times Gets It Wrong


Yesterday’s on-line edition of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/03/your-money/03money.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=gay%20partners&st=cse) contained a long story bleating about the “High Cost of Being A Gay Couple.”  It seems, according to the Times’s calculations, that gay couples are doomed to shelling out anywhere between $40,000 and $140,000 more, over a lifetime, than married straight couples of identical fiscal circumstances.  The big villains: insurers, taxes, Social Security and the costs of child-production.  How tragic.  How unfair.  Boo-hoo.

Of course, a torrent of comments followed, virtually all of them sympathetic to gay couples who struggle with their position behind the financial eight-ball.  A couple of brave souls, though, suggested that the Times run a similar analysis comparing the costs of being single to those of being coupled—gaily or straightly.  While I applaud the suggestion, I doubt it’ll be followed.  In the first place, there is no social agenda to be advanced in pursuing such an analysis.  In the second place, it might put the economic “suffering” of couples in an unflattering light. And in our culture of victimology, it’s a fight to the finish to see who ends up at the bottom of the heap.  It wouldn’t do to have the victims du jour wind up on top.

In my last post I wrote about health insurance, so I’m not going to revisit that topic here.  But I would ask the Times if, when looking at work-place sponsored insurance, it considered all of the benefits to which employees—gay, straight, married, partnered, single—are entitled.  Health insurance is only the beginning.  Where I worked, for example, family members (defined as spouse, partner, or spawn) were entitled to use the athletic facilities and the library.  For singles, there was no alternative benefit.  Tuition remission was provided for children, partners, and spouses.  For singles, there was no alternative benefit.  An on-site facility provided subsidized day-care for the children of faculty and staff.  For singles, there was no alternative benefit.  These benefits were not a zero-sum-game: real institutional costs were incurred by making them available.  Once again, a “family” of two or more simply has that many more hands to stick in the benefits cookie jar.  While the singles are just stuck, hoping for a crumb to be tossed their way.

Next the Times should consider the costs of running a household.  Heat and electricity charges are the same whether there are one, two or twenty-two people in the abode.  Ditto for landscaping services. Ditto for snow removal.  Ditto for property taxes: the larger the family, the better the deal here.  Schools, libraries, public facilities all have heavier usage by families, and yet the single-homeowner pays exactly the same tax for demonstrably less service.

And then of course there are the costs of travel.  I challenge the Times to explain how gay couples who take cruises, packaged vacations, or who simply stay in hotel rooms are worse off than their straight counterparts.  Or to compare the cost of these luxuries to what a single pays for the same commodity.  In the case of the hotel room, the cost is exactly the same, effectively doubling what the single is expected to cough up.  In the case of the cruise or vacation, the steep “single supplement” tacked on to the published “double occupancy” fare makes it clear that singles aren’t welcome.

Then finally there is the social tax on singles, the invisible burden of being the “extra person” that no partnered gay or straight must ever shoulder.  My next post takes up this levy.  I hope you’ll check it out.

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