False Security

Living in Utah, I never really paid much mind to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). After all, even if DOMA is repealed, my state defines marriage as “one man and one woman,” which is irony at its best since the very folks who demanded that amendment to our state’s constitution head into Mormon temples every day to perform spiritual polygamist marriages. So, up until recently DOMA really wasn’t on my radar.

I support the battle for marriage equality. I think it’s important. I think it’s fair. I know it’s the right thing to do. But, I don’t really define my relationship by how the state sees it, so it’s not one of those things that is at the top of my list of concerns on a daily basis. Did I remember to buy coffee to brew my morning cup? Is there enough dog food for the 7AM feeding so I don’t have to go to the store at the crack of dawn? Is there any way I can avoid that Friday afternoon conference call so I can slip away for a longer weekend adventure? Those things are at the top of my daily worry list. But, can I run down to the justice of the peace and tie the knot? Yeah…not so much.

But over the last week, things changed. DOMA snuck up on me and punched me in the face. Well, seeing as how I consider DOMA to be a Republican, it’s more like it dropped a bomb on me with an un-manned aerial vehicle. Or maybe it shot me while we were out duck hunting. Either way…DOMA hosed me.

My partner and I are not married. We’re not allowed to be in the great state of Utah, but for all intents and purposes we might as well be. We own our home together. We have a joint auto insurance policy. We’re each other’s beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement accounts. But, we each maintain our own health insurance through our employers because the individual premiums ended up cheaper than a single family premium with either job, and because it’s just a hassle to change health insurance. Then things changed.

In a perfect storm of circumstances we’re now faced with a health insurance nightmare. A temporary reduction in work hours resulted in my partner losing his health insurance for the foreseeable future, which we figured we could handle in stride because my company offered coverage for Domestic Partners. But, then I changed jobs, and my new employer is a much smaller company. When I inquired with HR about DP coverage, the head of the department (a department consisting of one person) shook her head. My heart sunk. She explained because the company is so small, we’re beholden to our carrier with regard to the types of coverage we can offer employees and still keep things affordable. Our big conglomerate of an insurance company (you know…the one that needs to be protected from the Affordable Health Care Act) will allow DP coverage, but with significantly higher administrative charges. Why the increased charges? DOMA.

DOMA prevents the federal government from offering any benefit or consideration to same sex couples living in committed relationships. This means a domestic partner (or even a married same sex spouse in states where it’s legal) who is receiving insurance on a partner’s employer sponsored plan triggers a complicated chain of events. Basically, the amount of money the employer is paying for the domestic partner’s insurance premium has to be considered taxable income to the employee, and the employee’s contribution toward the premium cannot enjoy pre-tax deductions. So, while my married heterosexual friends can add their spouses to insurance and enjoy tax-free benefits, I cannot add my committed partner without triggering a taxable event. And that taxable event is apparently so complicated to handle, my small employer can’t absorb the cost.

Some companies have spoken out against this unfair practice and even go so far as mitigating it for their gay employees. Companies like Apple and SkyWest Airlines cover domestic partners (both same sex and opposite sex). The companies increase affected employees’ pay to cover the additional tax burden. But, how dare these companies assault traditional marriage! Don’t they know marriages all over the country will fall apart because my partner enjoys health insurance on my company’s plan? Or if gay people all over the country enjoy slightly lower taxation?

Now we’re out on the open market looking for individual insurance plans. You know, that market the Republicans say doesn’t need any regulation. The one they say has affordable plans already. The one they say doesn’t deny coverage to people who have even a small issue in the medical past. Yeah…right. In the end, as we’re looking at paying a ridiculous monthly premium and fudging some of the answers to avoid triggering a denial, I’m left wondering…who exactly is DOMA protecting?