LGBTQ couples see progress
This amendment passed on Nov. 7, 2006, by 59 percent of Wisconsin voters, prohibits marriage for gay or lesbian couples.
Effective Jan. 1, 2010, the UW System will extend employer-sponsored benefits to same-sex or opposite sex domestic partners. A domestic partnership is defined as a civil recognition of a relationship between two individuals, extending limited legal protections to them. As a gay man, I am excited to see the LGBTQ community achieve this important milestone on its journey for equal rights. However, this step toward equality comes at a cost, known as imputed income.
Imputed income is when employers include the fair market value of the group health insurance benefits of your partner and partner’s eligible dependents with your gross income. According to the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds, “the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) excludes from gross income the amounts paid by your employer toward your group health insurance premium for the employee, the employee’s spouse and dependents. Federal law treats your spouse and dependents as ‘tax dependents’ for which the tax exclusion is permitted. However, under federal law a domestic partner cannot qualify as a spouse for purposes of excluding employer-provided health benefits from the subscriber’s taxable income.” Since Wisconsin prohibits gay marriage, domestic partners are not eligible for this tax exclusion. This affects the individual’s taxable income, increasing tax liability.
For instance, if I were interested in adding a domestic partner to my family health insurance policy, even with one of the more basic health insurance plans, my taxable income would increase about $415.00. Given my salary, each paycheck would have an additional $112.23 in tax withholdings. By the end of the year, I would have lost $2,693.52 due to imputed income. My straight coworker, who makes the same salary and has a spouse on their family health insurance policy, loses nothing. Am I still thankful to have the option of having my partner on my family health insurance? Absolutely.
Domestic partnership benefits have more than just a financial cost; there is an emotional cost as well. While many hail domestic partnership benefits as a major victory for the LGBTQ community, I am hesitant in the celebration. It is a big step toward equal rights, without a doubt. But we have to keep moving forward and building upon our successes. We have to start considering the next step.
There are more than 1,200 couples in Wisconsin who have already registered with the domestic partnership registry, living in committed and loving relationships similar to marriage, but only lacking in title. They raise children together, but still lack the legal right to child custody or joint adoption. Maybe if we pay a few more dollars, the State will recognize that same-sex partners are equally as loving to their children as our heterosexual counterparts. Foolish? Yes.
Wisconsin is gaining ground in creating a more equal and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community, but we have to make sure we keep the momentum going. I encourage faculty and staff to visit http://www.bussvc.wisc.edu/uwpc/2010/imputed_income.html to calculate how much income they would lose if they were in a domestic partnership. See for yourself what equality costs.
If you are interested in advancing the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, please visit www.fairwisconsin.com. Working together, we can stay true to the state’s motto and take Wisconsin forward.
Gardner is the LGBTQ program director for the Women’s and Gender Equality Center and a guest columnist for The Spectator.