June 22, 2018
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Shouldn’t all people enjoy protections married people enjoy?

By Susan Lamb, Special to the BDN

On behalf of the members of the Maine chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and myself, personally, I am taking issue with the Op-Ed posted in the paper last week by the Rev. Bob Emrich.

The National Association of Social Workers, or NASW, is committed to approval of same-gender marriage as a matter of equity. Society provides many advantages to people who marry: tax breaks by the state and by the national government, retirement protection for surviving spouses and surviving children, the right to make health decisions for the spouse when that person is unable to make those decisions alone.

All of these rights exist the hour after the wedding. These are a few of protections married people enjoy.

Emrich does not care to acknowledge that gay and lesbian people already have children. Sometimes by previous relationships or by adoption, they are parents. The children of gay and lesbian parents deserve the same rights and responsibilities as the children of straight parents. Period.

If same-gender couples are not allowed to marry legally, they, and their children, have none of the rights but retain all of the responsibilities as members of our society to support the rights of married people.

How? Gay and lesbian couples pay taxes at the single rate to both the state and federal government. This is patently not fair. If one partner in a gay couple dies, the children, whether by adoption or by being the biological child of one partner, do not get social security support until age 18. That is, unless the parent who died had the legal relationship with the child.

Put plainly, if the dad who died was not the adopting or biological parent, that child gets nothing from the government, although both parents have paid into the system all of their working lives.

By forbidding the legal institution of marriage to gay and lesbian couples, we force them to draw up binding contracts outlining their legal obligations and rights to one another.

They must also buy additional insurance to cover each other in the event of a death and to make up for the lack of social security. Frequently, they and their children cannot be on their partner’s health insurance plan. In a medical emergency, they must produce the documents and go before a judge if anyone challenges the right to make decisions for the partner.

And now for my personal reason for supporting marriage equality: For 25 years I was married to a fine man. He was a good father to our two children. He is still a good father, but we are no longer married.

Why? Because he figured out that he was gay. Was it painful? You bet. It was painful for all of us.

That said, 12 years later I’ve now been married for more than eight years to a wonderful man. Without the loss of the first marriage, I could not have experienced the big love of the second.

In this marriage, I have all of the rights of a spouse. If something were to happen to Stephen, I will get his federal pension. He will inherit my retirement benefits. I am covered by his health care policy. We can make medical decisions for one another in a medical crisis. One of us will make the arrangements to bury the other with no outside interference (that is no small matter in a marriage between a Catholic and a Jew).

Our marriage is recognized by all of society and by our children. When it comes to planning the care for one another in our later years, we call all of the shots. This matters to my husband and to me very much. We made a legal commitment to care for one another when we married.

My former husband is in a long-term relationship. He and his partner enjoy none of these rights, but they still pay the same taxes. Indeed, they pay more taxes than we do because they cannot file jointly.

My adult children know the truth: This is not right.

We live in America. This country was founded on the ideal of equality of opportunity. I look forward to the day when enough states have passed marriage equality that the federal government follows suit and we all have the same rights. I know that day will come during my children’s lifetimes.

My colleagues at NASW Maine and I are working toward that day. In Maine, I believe that day is here.

Susan Lamb is the executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, Maine Chapter, and is a former Maine House member (Susan Dore) from Auburn (1986-1996).

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