Complexity vs. Simplicity

One of the most frequent questions I face in the many radio interviews I’m doing this month — especially from straight interviewers — is how same-sex couples deal with the complexity of the current legal landscape.  I find that explaining this challenge is really helpful in pointing out  how discrimination works these days.  It is not just a matter of fewer rights or heavier tax burdens, but also, a dizzying complexity that can make basic decision-making very difficult.  There are inconsistencies between state and federal laws, especially regarding taxes, and convoluted discrepancies between various forms of registration.  Straight couples have the luxury of a nationally consistent legal system, and consistency over time that enables them to make decisions about parentage, home ownership, and financial and estate planning.

At the same time, we should not over-romanticize simplicity.  Twenty years ago lesbians and gay men had very few rights, and so life in those days was simple, but very difficult.  The complexities we face today are a result of dramatic progress, and while the movement has been far from comprehensive we should not complain too loudly about the recent developments.  Instead, we all need to learn to work with the complexity, to maximize our rights and protections while we continue to fight for full equality — at which point our lives will be simple in the best sense of the word.

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