Saturday, April 26, 2008


Thank goodness for the Council on Contemporary Families -- a group of scholars, researchers, and clinicians who care about all families and who respond to the right-wing marriage movement's attacks on family diversity. One highlight of the just-concluded annual conference: A paper from RAND researcher Jui-Chung Alan Li reporting findings, using a large data base, that divorce does not cause behavior problems in children. How silly does the vice-president of the right-wing marriage movement group Institute for American Values sound when she responds by saying: "What he's doing is controlling for so many things he's making the effects of divorce disappear"?? It is precisely because the marriage movement does NOT control for many other factors that they can blame all of our social problems on the decline of life-long heterosexual marriage. The CCF conference also featured unabashed feminists! That shouldn't be news, but all too often is when it comes to family policy discussions. Congratulations to Amy DePaul, who received one of the CCF media awards. Feminist bloggers Deborah Siegel and Veronica Arreola were inspirational. By following Veronica's blog, I learned that a paid sick leave bill has been introduced in the Illinois legislature. It defines "family members" to include anyone the employee has lived with for six months. That's moving us closer to valuing all families...although I still would like a state to adopt the definition of "family member" in federal law, which includes "any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship." If the federal government can allow its employees to care for their families however they define them, why not states and private employers as well??

Monday, April 21, 2008


When Joan Procito left her job in Pennsylvania to follow her partner, Mary Jo, to Florida, she found out that she couldn't receive unemployment benefits. Pennsylvania has a "following the spouse" doctrine that allows a former employee to collect unemployment compensation if the reason s/he left a job was to follow a spouse to another location. Pennsylvania denies benefits to an unmarried partner, even if the couple is raising children together (as Joan and Mary Jo were). That's bad family policy. It penalizes people who actually support each other, emotionally and economically, simply because they aren't married. New York, on the other hand, gets it right. In that state, an employee who moves with an unmarried parter has "good cause" for leaving his or her job and can collect unemployment benefits. Gay rights advocates wanted the court to rule that the "following the spouse" doctrine was unconstitutional because Joan and her partner could not marry, but the real problem with the doctrine is that it requires marriage of anyone. Unemployment benefits always require an individualized determination of the former employee's eligibility. It's not hard to tell if someone's family circumstances precipitated the move. Joan's did, so she should have prevailed, whether her partner was named Mary Jo or just Joe.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


There's much that's wrong with our income tax treatment of families. But when marriage equality advocates argue that same-sex couples face tax disadvantages because they can't marry, they don't tell the whole story. Marriage reduces taxes for couples that have one wage earner, or two wage earners who earn vastly different incomes. In other words, the "traditional" husband-as-wage-earner, wife-as-homemaker family is greatly advantaged by our tax rules. Their "bonus" for being married costs the government $30 billion. When two equal wage earners marry, they pay more taxes. So same-sex couples who marry would simply become a part of this unfair system; those with one primary wage-earner would benefit and those with two more equal wage-earners would lose out. Also, for low income parents, marriage can deprive them of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); low income gay and lesbian parents who marry in Massachusestts should be grateful that the federal government doesn't consider them married!

Of course these are not arguments AGAINST allowing same-sex couples to marry. It's just that our inequitable income tax system is not a reason to support same-sex marriage either. We need to reduce the significance of marriage in the income tax system. The Alternatives to Marriage Project has the best proposals for this.