Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Same Sex Marriage: Follow Your Nose

Tuesday, Kansas residents will go to the polls, much as seventeen other states have done, and vote on a constitutional amendment that defines "marriage" as between one man and one woman. This has also been a source of debate on our national political landscape.

To date, the debate has been covered in the main stream media as one of emotions, from both those that oppose and those that support it. In reviewing the information from both sides, I would say that there has been something missing from our public discourse on the matter. At least from the side of the "opposition", though, the supporters (or, at least, those that are ambiguous on the matter as "no skin off their backs") have mentioned these issues a few times, but the opposition has succeeded in framing the argument to their constituents general comprehension of the matter: feelings; morality; nature and sin. The supporters of same sex marriage have been equally lax and drawn into the debate on matters of discrimination and morality.

It is, without a doubt, true that many people base their ideas concerning certain political and social issues on "feelings" whether they be left or right, pro or con, your average citizen knows just enough about issues to rattle them up against their general idea of life and make a decision. Of course, a good portion don't go beyond that to look at details before making their decision.

With that in mind, I dare say that my discussion of the matter will engender quite a bit of "feelings" as opposed to reasonable thought, but I decided to take up the gauntlet anyway.

Colombo used to say, "I followed my nose" when resolving a case. In this case, the stench arises from hidden topics: money, law and slippery slopes.

Go to the inner sanctum for additional discussion.

First, one must have an idea about what proportion of people are directly affected by these discussions.

About 3% of the population is estimated to be homosexual. This would put the number at approximately 9 million in America alone. That number may be extremely conservative considering the nature of surveys and the topic itself.

Within that population, there is an unknown number that subscribe currently to a monogamous relationship of a longterm commitment. If we follow some comparisons that show homosexuality follows the same basic rules of the population in education, income, race, etc, and common rules regarding heterosexual relationships apply, some where around 80% of that population would consider marriage and at least 50% would make long term commitments.

If all rule sets apply.

In which case, we are talking about at least 4 million people that would enter into a legally binding relationship on a longterm basis and another 3 million would enter into a legally binding relationship that might end after a number of years. Applying also the rule sets of heterosexual relationships regarding divorce.

This is a relatively small part of our population in percentage points, but represents a definitive portion of money in our economy as their own subset of society.

A few things that would be affected would include, but not limited to:

Health Insurance: Legal same sex couples would be eligible to place their partner on their health insurance as a dependent. This has two monetary impacts:

1) While "family" benefits are fairly expensive, even purchased through an employer, policy holder "plus one" dependent benefits are considerably cheaper than two individuals holding and paying their own policies. On a yearly basis, estimating the difference to be somewhere around $10/mo per premium paid. If all rule sets apply then at least 2 million people will pay $10/mo less if legally recognized. If we calculate this to its end, 2 million X 10.00 X 12 months = 240 million a year in lost revenue for health insurance agencies. That number could go up or down depending on the number of same sex marriages entered into and could be compounded by additional legal relationships that may result in any recognizable status as applied by the state. I'll address that momentarily, but on to the second issue...

2) It stands to reason that a number of people not previously covered by health insurance will be so covered. At the rate of STDs within the community as well as other health issues across all population stratum, the rate of payout for services will exceed the amount of premiums paid, thus compounding losses.

In general, it is the state that picks up the tab for uninsured patients. That means that the average tax payer pays for treatments for the uninsured. This spreads the cost out among all contributors. However, if same sex marriages are recognized, it will be the average worker who does have health insurance that will feel it anyway through increased premiums. This would spread the cost out to even less of the population. This is IF same sex marriages or civil unions are held down to only this population. Again, I'll address this under "legal" issues and the "slippery slope".

Social Security and Medicare Benefits: These benefits are usually provided to only three types of people related to the payer of the taxes into these benefits. That would include the payer, the spouse and children. Except Medicare where said benefits are only transferable to the spouse. Under same sex relationships, this would add somewhere around 20k more recipients per year who would receive some form of benefits even if the spouse never worked a day. In both benefits, this could mean pay outs of nearly 152 million a year in social security (based on average pay out) and approximately 200 million a year in Medicare benefits. Without any or with minimal contributions from the receiver.

Income tax, however, could bring in an additional 1.2 billion in revenue if 2 million actually had two working partners with incomes that would be subject to the approximate tax responsibility of your average heterosexual couple. However, none of this revenue would make it into the treasuries of the most vulnerable programs: social security and Medicare.

It is, without a doubt, private industry that would suffer the greatest. Home mortgage companies that, even today, will give a loan to a couple without the benefit of marriage, also see these co-ops as "high risk" and are more likely to give a legally bound and recognized couple a loan. In general, this may widen the customer base and most people would see this as a benefit to the mortgage companies, but to them, it doesn't change the risk so much as moves the figure from one bucket to another where they would have to consider giving such couples a loan or be considered "discriminatory". The question is: does same sex marriage lower or increase the risk? Again, leaving it to just the impact of the homosexual community, the impact is probably not as large nor ominous.

Assumptions of loans, leases and other financial concerns would be drastically changed. Certainly, there are other industries that would be impacted, though I won't go into a long list because I want to address a few legal issues.

In the court of law, a spouse is not obligated to testify against the other spouse, holding that all discussions between two such people are indeed considered to have the expectation of privacy. Same sex marriage would certainly give some protections to people that do not currently have the law to do so.

Inheritance issues could be clarified or just as likely muddied.

A spouse could be considered an appropriate person give custody of children, access to trust funds, legal control of assets, etc, etc, etc.

Let us not forget the recognition of potential adopters of children. Leaving alone the moral issue, legally and quantitatively, this opens up another huge group of competitors for a small resource.

In essence, our legal system would require a great deal of review and reconsideration to accommodate such a practice.

But, again, leaving the question of same sex marriage to homosexual couples alone and their potential impact on a legal system that may be dealing with such issues already outside the boundaries of legal bonds, would be incredibly narrow and short sited.

In essence, codifying or recognizing same sex marriage does not limit the practice to potential homosexual couples. Looking at the whole gamut of benefits that arise from a legal same sex union, it is not over reaching to imagine the number of legal bonds that could and would take place to take advantage of these benefits.

It is quite possible and even probably that the same advantage is already being taken by heterosexual or opposite sex couples. While marriages of convenience are no longer de rigour it does not mean that they do not occur. In opening the boundaries for same sex marriage, this could mean an even greater number of people that could and would enter into short term contractual relations in order to take advantage of these benefits, circumvent the legal actions, or consolidate legal standing in regards to guardianship of children, access to property, etc, etc, etc.

Marriage, or legal recognition thereof, does not demand any proof that the relationship is of longterm or for an emotional reason such as love. In the court of law, it is a procedural matter, established by legal documents and, in very few cases, the assignation of motive for such a contractual relationship could not and would not enter the legal landscape.

Today, these issues are not part of the larger debate. Our debate continues to focus on morality, the meaning of a word and feelings. Both sides refuse to address the long term and expanded impact of allowing the legal and financial impact to enter the debate for their own reasons.

Certainly, the homosexual community wants to keep this focused on their rights as citizens and the issues that impact their community including what they and many of their supporters see as discrimination under the law and in society. Aside from the moral debate, this is an issue that has yet to be resolved. If they allow the debate to include the other financial and legal impact on a broader portion of the population to be discussed, it might lead to a loss of coherence and even support from those that feel for their situation.

The opposition continues to frame the debate on moral grounds largely because that is what a great deal of the heterosexual community understands. Discussions of future legal and financial impact are too dry and, frankly, uninteresting to the general population. Your average citizen is not thinking about the contractual, legal and financial problems of fifty or thirty years from now when many more people outside of the homosexual community begin to take advantage of these changes (maybe even less time). From most people's perspective and based on how they view society today, where same sex legal bonds are not acceptable or part of normal society, they probably cannot imagine society would change in so dramatically.

So, this point of reference is left largely undebated and unsaid but by a few pundits, politicos and legal professionals. It is certainly nothing that you hear on your television or read in the news papers. This is left to the emotional issues of morality, feelings and discussions of discrimination.

For those who would subscribe to the theory that the questions I raise are, in fact, over reaching and improbable, I would like to mention a few items that are considered social norms today (although, some still highly contentious) that were not so in the last century:

1) Inter racial relationships. Nothing wrong with this, but certainly 50 years ago, it was not acceptable and even proscribed by law. Today, those laws have been struck down and, in general, inter racial couples are not shunned nor discriminated against under the law.

2) Divorce. Only someone living under a rock would not know the basic statistics of divorce have seen an incredible increase in the divorce rate to a mind boggling 50% of married couples. Fifty and even forty years ago, this was not an acceptable societal norm. Today, it has its own legal and financial impact, forcing new rules regarding current spouses versus previous spouses or even estates, benefits, and government benefits regarding no current spouse but multiple divorced spouses.

3) Out of wedlock births. This has increased substantially as well and has certainly lost any consideration of censure by the public. It has also led to financial and legal burdens not fore seen at the time that normalization was being pushed. Child support, paternity suits, benefits, custody, welfare are just a few of the areas impacted by this elevation to societal norm. Forty and thirty years ago it was frowned upon and thus had a relatively low occurrence.

4) Abortion. Again, thirty years ago it became a matter of public and legal discourse. While it certainly had benefits in the control of reproduction cycles for women and thus "freeing" them to be "equal" with their male counterparts in the sexual revolution, the increase in abortions exponentially year over year and decade after decade has made it a "societal norm" and thus keeps it legal (if still in our minds due to controversy). This "freedom" has certainly impacted more than a woman's ability to control her body, it has contributed directly to the idea that relationships do not have to be long term and that certain acts will not lead to responsibility, thus impacting people's ideas on marriage and divorce.

In no case am I mentioning these issues to open debate on them to muddy the debate on our current topic, but to clarify exactly what we do not want to talk about:

Above and beyond the issues of homosexual relations, recognition of same sex "marriage" or "civil unions" or "contractual bonds", or whatever one wants to refer to it as, there is a matter of what society will look like in twenty, thirty or fifty years once it becomes common (societal norm), the emotional aspects are largely done away with and it only remains in the legal and financial landscape, what is the larger impact of accepting these practices?

On gut instinct, addressing only the emotional aspects, my first thoughts are, "Why not? Why not allow couples of whatever sex to be recognized and cement their bonds?"

The other, reasoning side of me asks, "What is the actual scope of the impact beyond morality and feelings? Where does the recognition end and the legal and financial aspects explode?"

In turn, that leads me to a question, even as a single person, that is slightly emotional, but still related to statistics: If in thirty years, contracts of such a nature are accepted and entered into for purposes beyond this recognition of an emotional bond on a regular basis (as will surely come to pass under procedural law), what does it mean for the concept of "marriage"? What will the statistics look like? How many additional broken homes, problem children, etc does that leave us with and can we deal with that socially, legally and economically?

Certainly, the other issues I comment on have eventually worked themselves into our legal codex yet leaves us with a greater and greater burden, socially, legally and economically. I am certain the questions would be dealt with, but at what cost?

I am also certain that I'll be attacked on the grounds that I either appear to support or oppose the issue depending on who reads it and from what side of the table they are addressing it from.

So be it.

I think that it is time we had some rational debate, don't you?

1 comment:

On Lawn said...

Good stuff.

Of course both sides consider their arguments to be rational and compelling. I think however that maybe a lack of appreciation of morality is leading it to be abandoned.

To me morality is like prosperity, only prosperity measures economic health and morality measures social health. When a company of troops have high moral, they accept orders, they feel free to challenge orders, they are happy and they are all working toward a common goal. But most of all they are happy.

Marriage is a moral issue along these same lines. A happy family is one of the real great pleasures in life. Oddly enough it requires sacrifice, understanding, comprimise, and a host of other qualities that we consider to be liberal.

I mean just think of it, a man *has* to get to know and work with a woman in marriage. Their diversity in perspectives demand comprimise but also increase the visibility and diversity in their governance of the family. It is (and I use this in the pejorative) discriminatory and selfish to establish a family head on just one sex.

PJ O'Rourke whimsically remarked that if same-sex marriage was adopted that we'd have a slew of heterosexual males getting married to each other where they won't have to turn of their Xbox, pick up their socks, and can carouse every night of the week. Satirically, that hits the very heart of the diversion of purpose and conciliation that marriage is.

Over time marriage has become a more fair institution, and arguably so because of the demand for equal representation of both sexes. Woman's sufferage was passed by their husbands, Greek women stopped a war (in litterature at least), and miscogenist practices have been eradicated over time. This same diversity provides our democracy with the expectation that it will become more fair over time. Restoring full citizenship to blacks has definately done that.

So I have no problem deciding this on moral (index of social happiness) grounds. The impact is measured in the wellbeing of children, husbands and wives more than economical indexes.

BTW, you can peruse my site, Opine Editorials where I find that marriage is at the core of society. Not suprising really :) But anyways, you'd probably like to read more, and we get into a lot there.