Elaine and Mignon  (Black Enterprise)

Elaine and Mignon
(Black Enterprise)

Admittedly, there has been a significant increase of studies claiming that LGBT couples are financially equal to heterosexual partners. However, as more scientific and quantitative data surfaces, new research suggests the complete opposite: lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender couples are financially disproportionate to traditional partners—how did these financial inequities arise and how can we fix it?

Black Enterprise, a magazine founded in 1970 that provides relevant information regarding issues within the African-American community, featured one of the first Black lesbian couples in their April/May 2013 issue. Elaine Harley, 43, and Mignon R. Moore, 42, recently obtained their marriage licenses from New York City to commemorate their incredible 10-year relationship. Unfortunately, due to their six-year residency in Los Angeles, the recently-wed couple is legally indistinguishable and is unidentified as a married couple. The law presently views their decade-long relationship as a domestic partnership, which is not the same acknowledgement as a married couple. While the couple had an elaborate ceremony in Mexico, the ceremony was not enough to legally recognize the two married women as a financial entity. Elaine and Mignon are one of the thousands of LGBT couples who are unable to reflect their commitment financially through legal recognition.

Consequently, the creation of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) during the Clinton administration permissibly allows for the blocking of their constitutional acknowledgement. The act  specifically states:

“No state, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, passion, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.”

The document then defines the parameters of marriage and designates what the law will and will not recognize:

“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the world ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.”

A newly married lesbian couple (Kelly Prizel)

A newly married lesbian couple
(Kelly Prizel)

From a legal perspective, the Defense of Marriage Act proves to be a huge barrier for LGBT couples seeking acknowledgement from the government. Thankfully, 12 states approve gay marriage, but ultimately the ability to determine whether LGBT individuals can be married is decided by states. Also, the ability for LGBT individuals to marry does not necessarily mean they will receive equal financial treatment similar to traditional couples. Lambda Legal, the nation’s leading resource for LGBT persons, reveals California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and  Washington provide gay couples with the label and responsibility of marriage but legally distinguish the bond as a “civil union” or “domestic partnership”. The Supreme Court of the United States is battling a historical litigation pertaining to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act that is actually paving the way for couples similar to Mignon and Elaine to be accepted by the law.

The New York Times provided statistics regarding the financial deficit in comparison to heterosexual couples. Here are a few of their findings:

Health Insurance: $211,993 (worst case); $28,595 (best case)

Social Security: $88, 511 (worst case); $255 (best case)

Financial Planning: $5,500 (worst case); $0 (best case)

The numbers do not lie and paint an unavoidable tale of inequality for lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual Americans. Similar to the separate but equal mentality that oppressed the African-American community for centuries, a similar treatment is used to keep LGBT individuals from reaching financial success. Some readers may object that the plight of African-Americans is incomparable to LGBT rights; I would argue that placing a value on any form of civil right insinuates that other struggles are inferior or subordinate to the predominant story of equality.

The implicit hierarchy placed on the Black struggle unintentionally diverts attention away from the issues of the LGBT community. Sadly, a large amount of African-Americans (and others) view the Black fight for equality as the only model for civil rights. The main difference between the Black struggle and LGBT equality is mainly supported by religious and moral arguments that heavily impact how America interprets homosexuality (the Bible was used to justify slavery and white privilege for thousands of years thus the religious argument used by many to defend the superiority of Black civil rights is inadequate). By demonstrating the commitment and persistence of both parties to seek equality, we can all agree that there should not be a value system placed on human rights. In other words, the current fight for LGBT individuals to be legally recognized may open doors for other marginalized groups: likewise, the fight for African-American recognition paved the way for other demonstrations of human rights.

The full article featured in Black Enterprise is available online!

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