Before the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage federally, people asked me why gay marriage was a big deal. Here’s some of what it meant to me.
When I was twenty-two and my wife and I started dating. We did the cliche lesbian thing where she moved in almost immediately. After four months together she started to have some health problems. Nothing serious, but it made her and I realize that if she were ever to have serious health problems I would have no “claim” to her, and in fact her immediate family (who had kicked her out literally to the curb when she came out) would have more of a say in healthcare decisions than I would. Whether we were together for two months or twenty years the same rang true. Without a legal document binding us together our relationship didn’t matter. It terrified me that she would get into a car accident and I would show up at the hospital only to be denied seeing her by her family. So at the ripe ages of twenty-two and twenty-three she and I sat down with a lawyer and had a healthcare proxy and living will drawn up for her. It was two hundred dollars. That is a lot for two girls one still in college with no financial support from her family, and me fresh out of college and paying rent for the first time ever. She kept a copy in her car and at home. I did too. Heterosexual couples likely don’t think about this stuff, unless their immediate family has cut them off for some reason. But hospitals are also less likely to bar a heterosexual partner from seeing their significant other than a homosexual partner. I can tell you from experience there are hospitals all over the country that would bar me from seeing my wife without my legal piece of paper saying to let me the fuck in prior to gay marriage. Even post gay marriage in conservative areas gay couples still take the steps described above to protect themselves in case disaster strikes. When it was state by state we would still all need this documentation because if we travelled to states that didn’t have gay marriage we could face the situation described above. We travelled with healthcare proxies and living wills whenever we left out state. Federal gay marriage allowed me to breathe a little. I could now travel outside of my state and be recognized as her wife anywhere.
Then there were the taxes. We were married in our state for about four years prior to the federal gay marriage ruling. For four years we filed the most fucked up taxes imaginable. For four years the IRS sent me letters telling me how I fucked up my taxes, and for four years I refused to do it any differently because it just pissed me off on principle. Here’s how it went. I filed “single” federally for both of us. Then I had to make a dummy “married” federal tax return in order to file “married” in our state. Then we would get a state tax return of a certain amount of money. That’s where the IRS got mad. Because you have to claim a state income tax return on a federal return, but it was never clear to me who I should file it under because we received our state back as married, so it came to both of us. The IRS would then send me a letter that I never claimed that return as income. However they never sent my wife a letter. For some reason they decided I took all of the state income tax return even though it was split between my wife and I. For four years I called the IRS. I sat on hold for several hours combined, and I always spoke with Ms. Queenie. I explained my sad story to Ms. Queenie every year. I then asked how the IRS decided I got the full state return when I clearly filed jointly under both my wife and I. Ms. Queenie was always very polite, but ultimately she would tell me to just do what the IRS was telling me to do. Claim it fully under myself as income and pay what I owed the IRS. Every year for four years we had the same discussion. Every year for four years I posted on Facebook about how this system made no sense. How was it I could be married in a state but not the country? How could I step out of my state and all the sudden not be married? Why would I live in a country that didn’t respect the decision and court ruling made by my state? And why didn’t the fucking IRS make my wife claim half the income tax from our state? Why did they pick me? Did I knowingly break the law by not reporting my state income tax. Yes, sort of. I thought it didn’t make any sense, and I didn’t know who to claim the income under because as stated above our federal was two single returns. And I couldn’t get the IRS to admit that the money from our state went to BOTH of us, not just to me. Quite frankly that pissed me off. How could the IRS decide our relationship, our joint state return didn’t exist?
There are many more reasons that gay marriage is beyond important to me as a lesbian. Having children, and being legal parents of our children is another blog post in and of itself. But honestly for me, the tax situation was my biggest complaint. It really got under my skin. The main one being this. I have stated previously I work in healthcare. I devote my life and career to helping others. I also have a father who is a Vietnam Veteran, and a Grandfather who is a World War II Veteran. My family sacrificed so much for this country and for our freedoms. I give of myself daily to people of all races, sexualities, and religious backgrounds without judgement. It hurt me deeply that I could not enjoy the freedoms my family sacrificed for. It hurt me that I gave of myself selflessly to a society that was not willing to give back. It hurt me to live in a country that I would die for that would not even acknowledge one of the most important and valued relationships of my life. Gay marriage to me represented my country finally putting my family at the same level as every other citizen. It felt to me for the first time that we were truly free. And when I settled down at my laptop with my arch nemesis Turbotax, I actually got tears in my eyes when I submitted our married federal tax return for the first time. It sounds like something so small and simple, but to me it was a freedom we didn’t have before.