Archive for November, 2010

The Ethicist Has It Right!

November 29, 2010

The Ethicist column of the New York Times (11/27/10) answered a query from a lesbian couple that raises an interesting legal question. The writer asked whether her partner is ethically bound to reject government aid that would be denied to her if their marriage was recognized – -but which she can qualify for because the federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage.

The response rightly stated that since the term “single” is a technical term which is legally defined, and because the agency the partner is dealing with considers her single, she is entitled to receive the aid. In effect, he is saying that because the government discriminates against her as a lesbian, she has no ethical duty to “balance the scales” by applying stricter standards on herself than the government does. If the government considers her unmarried, then she is entitled to the benefits that are bestowed amongst unmarried persons.

There is one recent legal change that could create some problems for the partner, depending on where she lives. As of May 2010 the IRS has decided (rightly so, as it turns out) to recognize community property income as being earned 50/50 by each partner, regardless of who receives the paycheck. Thus, each partner must report 50% of the total community property income — and because the couple is considered unmarried, their taxes are actually lower than a straight couple would pay. However, when the non-earning partner submits her tax return to the government agency, they will see that she actually has earnings, in the form of her 50% of the partner’s community property income. That income may disqualify her from the benefit – not because she is married, but because she has a right to a share of her partner’s income as community property.

If that is the case then the non-earning partner will be disqualified from the benefits — which might seem unfair, but is fully legal!

Fidelity & Family Values — On Network Televsion

November 1, 2010

The reconciliation episode on Brothers & SIsters was truly a “monument” in network television coverage of gay couples and their family lives, in many ways. First, Kevin’s family members treated their relationship as a marriage — without any differentiation between theirs and the siblings’ straight marriages. In some ways I wish they would have indulged in a bit of differentiation from straight marriage presumptions (most gay couples I know are quite a bit less shattered by a confession of infidelity than what was shown here), but on the whole the high level of family acceptance is admirable. Second, all of the siblings, and mom especially, rallied to help the couple figure out how to resolve their issues. Rather than negating their partnership or ignoring it, the extended family (including the gay uncle) openly and lovingly pitched in to help, for better or worse.

Third, and to me the most significant aspect of the story, is that rather than continuing to demonize the unfaithful partner, in the end it emerged that he was reacting in an understandable way to a series of mutual dissatisfactions in the relationship — including some fairly eggregious dishonesty by his partner. As a result, his “infidelity” was rightly reframed as a piece of a larger relationship drama, with neither partner being a perpetrator or a victim. Armed with this new revelation, with mom’s prodding, the “faithful” partner admitted his dishonesties, and the healing between the couple could commence.

There is much to criticize in this episode, mostly in its hyper-normalization of the gay couple’s attitude towards fidelity and monogamy, but far more to praise. The men are allowed to have sexual feelings and desires — with each other and with others — and the emotional context of marriage is explored in terms of the couples’ inner needs and feelings, as well as how their relationship functions in the larger world of their extended family

I’m not sure how many of my friends or clients would turn to their mom for help in these situations, but as network television goes, it’s a new day.