Gay couples do not get marital benefits In his Opinion...


January 09, 2000

Gay couples do not get marital benefits

In his Opinion Commentary article, Bruce Mirken of San Francisco castigates ExxonMobil for denying spousal benefits to gay couples ("ExxonMobil falters on gay partner benefits," Dec. 28).

It is perhaps useful to explore the reason for spousal benefits in the first place.

Mr. Mirken is most likely referring to health insurance benefits but it is useful to look at an earlier benefit type, old-age pensions under Social Security, for an explanation.

Traditionally, men worked and their wives stayed home and cared for the children. For this reason, when a man retires, his wife can draw Social Security benefits as a spouse.

The whole concept is built around the family unit where there were children to be raised and a spouse who did not get paid a salary for their work in the home. Nevertheless, the spouse could and can receive a pension.

And when the wage-earner dies, the widow or widower can continue to draw benefits. So can the minor children.

Times have changed. Now we have stay-at-home husbands, both parents working and so on. The benefit structures are still tailored for the traditional family.

This leads to situations where the wife works at a low-paying office or sales job "just for the benefits" and the husband works at a higher paying but benefitless job in construction.

We have people living together and having a sexual relationship without any formal commitment.

Some of these couples are heterosexual; some are homosexual. And, of course, we have always had the situation where two people would share living quarters and expenses just for economic reasons.

Should society pay special benefits for all these situations? Should benefit structures designed to support the traditional family be enlarged to cover all these other arrangements? In a word, no.

There are anomalies and inequities now, but the situation worsens if we begin to expand the spousal benefit beyond its intended application.

What about three adults living together? What about two sisters sharing an apartment where one cooks and the other works? The list goes on.

The argument for gay couple benefits might be that the gay relationship is a form of marriage. In legal terms it is not.

And in societal benefit terms it is not.

In the spousal benefit there is at least the implication that there may be children to care for. There is certainly a legal lifelong commitment to sharing and support.

If Mr. Mirken doubts this, he should revisit the community property laws in his state. The only point of congruence between a gay couple and a married couple is a sexual relationship of some sort. That is not enough.

As the old Irish proverb says: "To keep a house and roof over head takes more than just four legs in bed."

John R. Culleton


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