VIDEO: Did Love Win? Not for Everyone

I remember June 26, 2015 so clearly I can give you an hourly breakdown. The TV was on as soon as I woke up, Pacific Time meaning I cut right to the good stuff outside the Supreme Court. I expected a much longer wait — one that justified the days, months, and years of hand wringing and breath holding already done — when boom, there it was, barely ten minutes into my day.

“There is a right to marriage equality.”

“Same-Sex Marriage Legal Nationwide.”

“It is so ordered.”

My boss sent me home from work early to celebrate because I clearly wasn’t getting anything done. I had a beer on a restaurant patio at noon. One of my college professors met up with me in West Hollywood, and we spent the rest of the day into the next one hugging, crying, and meeting up with friends who arrived in waves. People were sobbing in the street, releasing years of frustration and rejection and the White House was lit up rainbow and it felt like, on that day, we were finally getting somewhere.

Now Obergefell v. Hodges seems like an incredible dream we all had at once. I still believe it will stand the test of Trump (and Gorsuch) and time. But two years ago, I also wasn’t considering its limitations. Not just that a marriage license won’t save you from losing your house or your job — but that marriage equality isn’t yet a reality for many queer disabled folks, no matter what the Court said.

That’s because of some delightful provisions in Social Security benefit law known as “marriage penalties.” Never heard of them? Good news: I made you a video!

Because of what programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) help pay for, benefits “adjusting upon marriage” isn’t as benign as it sounds. You don’t just have less money to your own name — you’re also risking your only means of access to certain kinds of healthcare. That’s not something your partner can fix by adding their income to yours.

“Once you get married, they say ‘You’re no longer a burden of your parent — you’re a burden of your spouse! Congratulations,’” explains Dominick, a queer trans person I interviewed for the project. “They basically put all the burden on your spouse to take care of you, and they become financially responsible for you as a disabled person, which is a really horrible way of looking at [us]. Their income, no matter what it is, is now paying for both of you. So if, for example, you only have Medicare, good luck getting a wheelchair. I hope your partner’s income can pay for that.”

“A lot of us are living day-to-day, and people don’t want us to even have that,” he continues. “They say we’re entitled, they say we’re lazy, they say we don’t deserve this. But I also don’t see it as a choice. Choosing between lifesaving healthcare and marriage? That’s not a choice. That’s why it’s a penalty, and that’s why this is an issue of equality.”

One point the video touches on that I want to drive home here: the penalties still apply if you are “living as married,” meaning that any serious relationship, even without the formalities of marriage, poses a risk. So public acknowledgment of that relationship may be asking too much. “Sometimes you don’t even mention your partner by name,” Dominick says. “Or if you’re talking about them online, you use a pseudonym. It’s for their safety as much as yours, because the fear is very real.”

Marriage penalties often fall through the cracks of the equality discussion. They don’t affect everyone, they’re confusing, and who cares about something as dry as Social Security law anyway? But especially now, it’s crucial to stay vigilant about the work we have left to do. So watch this video, enjoy me in full Narrator Mode, and remember that “equal dignity” means all of us.

For more on the Obergefell ruling, Social Security benefits, and marriage penalties, visit rootedinrights.org/didlovewin.


Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you're able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?

Join A+

wadeacar

Carrie's body is weird and she's making that work for her. She lives in DC by way of Los Angeles and has a conflicted relationship with social media, but you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram anyway.

Carrie has written 1 article for us.

9 Comments

  1. Hi Carrie!

    This is truly amazing! I’m not from the US so I wasn’t aware that you have this problem, too! And I am so grateful to be able to find out more. Also, this looks great and I am so impressed.
    I’m from Germany and it’s pretty much the same, perhaps with the difference that we are in danger of being institutionalised- if our benefits thus assistance get cut, the state is doing “the responsible thing” by sending us to a “Heim” (as we call it).
    Few people in Germany are aware of this because disability is very stigmatized and people with disability try to hide- which makes activism difficult, of course… So when we try to mobilise, we look to America because you will fight for your rights (and you care about knowing them).

    Sorry for the long rant! I love your work and wish you all the best!

    Sarah

  2. Wow, I had no idea! I am currently working on getting my disability benefits, and was completely unaware that this was an issue. Marriage is not something I expect to ever want in my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the option. Thank you sorry much for sharing this with us… I am going to start talking about this with friends and family right away. If I didn’t know about this, a disabled person who considers myself well versed in this kind of thing, there is no way the average able bodied person would. Wow. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to this.

  3. This is very important information. Thank You for bringing it out in the open. I’ll need to investigate how things stand in my country, although I imagine that they are at least similar, if not the same. After all, the Patriarchy is the same everywhere.

  4. Thank you for talking about this Carrie. It’s something I only vaguely knew about because it hasn’t yet become relevant to my own life (and I had no idea that just living together without being married could have the same impact as actually getting married!), thanks to being able to stay on my parents’ insurance and being VERY SINGLE.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!