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LGBTQ Married Life

🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: The Big, Boring Impact of Obergefell

This polite tirade started as a really short LinkedIn post but just kept growing.

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which made marriage equality the law of the United States. Looking back at the joyous media coverage in 2015, you’d think the issue was about cake, confetti, and matching tuxedos.

Well, it was. But it really wasn’t. The real legacy of Obergefell is more meaningful — and less exciting — than you can imagine.

Yes, less exciting. Let me explain why:

My husband and I had been married seven years before Obergefell, but our marriage was only recognized in a few states. In our home state, just like at the national level, we had the legal status of roommates. It was confusing and degrading — and also unfair from an economic perspective.

For example, when we tried to add me as a second driver for a rental car in Las Vegas in 2011, the agent said there would be an additional charge. This rental company didn’t charge for spouses, so I said, “We’re married.” Loud enough for everyone to hear, she cruelly clapped back with, “Married? Not in Nevada, the hell you’re not.”1

I bring this up for two reasons:

  • That indignation haunts me to this day.
  • Being charged $10 or $15 a day for an additional driver is an example of the countless economic benefits we were denied but opposite-sex married couples could take for granted.

The economic inequality same-sex couples faced was especially prominent and painful at tax time. Even though we were married, my husband and I couldn’t take advantage of hundreds of federal benefits for married people filing jointly.

For example, as the husband of a university professor, my MBA and other master’s degree should have cost nothing: Free tuition was a perk for spouses of employees. But even though I didn’t have to pay the school a penny for anything except books and parking, I had to pay federal income tax on the full imputed value of the courses I took. That added up to thousands of dollars that an opposite-sex spouse wouldn’t have to pay.

We also had to pay taxes on the healthcare benefits I received when I needed to switch to my husband’s plan. Opposite-sex spouses didn’t have to pay taxes on their healthcare benefits.

The Obergefell decision was about dignity and equality. It’s easy to remember the parties, champagne, and wedding gifts, but I am most grateful for how Obergefell made our lives better in millions of small, mundane ways.

We feel the impact of Obergefell when we file taxes, sign paperwork, and apply for loans. We feel it when we go through customs and immigration at the airport and present our passports together, like any other married couple. We feel it when we’re shopping for auto insurance.

And trust me, we feel it every time we’re at the car rental counter in Las Vegas. Are we married in Nevada? Hell yes we are!

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1 I’m using a skosh of artistic license here. What she said probably wasn’t as loud or nasty, but it certainly made me feel terrible.