For Richer, For Poorer
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KAI: We bought a house together a few years ago and our tax accountant immediately was like, “So, you're getting married, right?”
LIZ: It really was only when we got married that she felt safe and secure enough to make that leap.
MARTHA: Odds are, I will be solo and then just have friends, but friends don't help pay rent.
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VOX 1: From WNYC Studios, you’re listening to Nancy.
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
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TOBIN: This is Queer Money Matters, our series about how reaching financial milestones can be harder for queer people.
KATHY: Today we’re talking about marriage.
TOBIN: We are. And Kathy, I just wanna start by saying, I know that you are all about maximizing your returns.
TOBIN: I remember there was a time where you were always signing up for new credit cards because then you get the miles, then you get free trips, and, like, you didn’t pay for a flight for, like, five years.
KATHY: It’s true. It’s very true. [TOBIN LAUGHS]
TOBIN: So, I’m curious. Would you ever get married just for the financial benefits?
TOBIN: You would.
KATHY: One thousand percent, yes.
TOBIN: Okay, so, Kathy. What are the financial benefits?
KATHY: I’m actually not sure. So, I made a call.
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KATHY: Um, Liz, I’m gonna start with having you introduce yourself. Just who you are, what you do, that sort of thing.
LIZ: So, sure! My name is Elizabeth Schwartz. I'm an attorney and activist in Miami, very much focused on the LGBT community.
KATHY: Liz is a lawyer who worked on the case that brought marriage equality to Florida. I wanted to talk to her because she literally wrote the book on marriage benefits. It’s called, “Before I Do: A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay or Otherwise.” I reached Liz at her office in Miami and had her run me through some of the biggest financial benefits to marriage.
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LIZ: The ability to hand over property to our partners without having to pay gift tax. The ability give inheritance at death without having to pay estate tax. Of course, there is the marriage bonus depending on your relative incomes. You can elect the higher social security benefits. It's much easier to establish parental rights. The immigration benefit is unbelievable. Let's say we get married and I want to give you half the house that was already in my name. There is no tax consequence associated with that. But if we're just in a relationship, like girlfriends, that's that's a taxable event, because you're a legal stranger to me. There’s, I think, 1064 benefits that the General Accounting Office of the Federal Government counted that are associated with marriage. You know, so that’s, of course, a lot a lot a lot! [THE WORD “LOT” ECHOES THREE TIMES]
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KATHY: Finances, of course, are also tied up with a lot of emotions. And Liz says there can be emotional benefits that come with the financial protections of marriage.
LIZ: I'll just tell you personally, you know, my wife quit her job at The Miami Herald. She was a journalist for 30 years — I guess, will always be a journalist. It’s in her blood. But she wanted to take the leap and to write fiction and to get her creative writing MFA. And even though we've been together for whatever it was, 11 or 12 years before we got married, it really was only when we got married that she felt safe and secure enough to make that leap. It's like she really believed me when I said I'm game to invest in this way and I want us to do this, like, as a family.
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TOBIN: Okay, okay. Wow, you have really convinced me. Marriage equality sounds like it’s totally great for queer people. Like, we used to have this huge financial hit by not being able to get married, but now everything’s solved! Episode over! Close it out, credits!
KATHY: No, not so fast, Tobin.
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KATHY: It’s true that we can get married now, which helped queer couples across the country. But there’s also the anxiety of whether those marriage benefits will last.
KATHY: Because, all around us, it seems like our rights keep getting chipped away. Like the religious exemptions laws, where now it’s okay for a baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, or for a child welfare agency to refuse to place children in LGBT homes. It just seems like these laws and benefits are fragile. They can change very easily and very quickly. And that doesn’t give much peace of mind.
KATHY: And even if queer couples keep the right to marry — this might sound obvious — not all queer people want to get married. Not because they can’t find a partner, or just like being single, but because marriage is antithetical to their identity. People like Martha.
MARTHA: My name's Martha. I work as a programmer. At my current job I'm making games to help special education students. And I am on the grey-asexual, aromantic spectrum.
KATHY: When did you begin to identify that way?
MARTHA: In high school for a while I had sort of, like, jokingly referred to myself as asexual. But, like, I was just meaning it as a science term because, like, I didn't know that it was actually an identity. I just knew I wasn't really interested in people the same way other people were. But it wasn't until, like, sometime in college I found out, like, “No, that's an actual thing that people also use to identify.”
KATHY: As somebody on the ace-aro spectrum, does your future look like you would ever have a partner like that? Like, a long-term partner to share financial burdens with?
MARTHA: I'm open to the possibility, but it's not likely. So it's not really something I can [PAUSE] plan on. Maybe I'll find someone else who is ace-aro spectrum and has, like, similar interests, but yeah … odds are, I will be solo and then just have friends. But friends don't help pay rent [LAUGHS] or anything like that.
KATHY: [LAUGHS] How would you describe your current financial situation?
MARTHA: So, luckily, I'm a programmer, which is reasonably well-paid. So that means I can survive living in Boston [KATHY HUMS AFFIRMATIVELY] without having roommates, just barely. Like — [KATHY LAUGHS] — um, if I was making even slightly less per month I probably would have to have roommates.
KATHY: What future financial issues worry you because you're a single-income household?
MARTHA: The cost of a house. And then the cost of upkeep. Because I would like to own a house someday. Not necessarily for the house but for the yard. ‘Cause I really like gardening and I would like to have a space where I could plant an apple tree. And then, down the line, be getting apples from it. And, like, having that sort of stability and being able to work on, like, a really nice garden with a lot of, like, plants that grow back every year and everything. [PAUSE] And I'm also sort of interested in potentially fostering kids, especially, like, middle school or teenager or stuff like that.
KATHY: Oh my God. [MARTHA LAUGHS] Bless you. Bless you. [KATHY LAUGHS, TOO]
MARTHA: I'd like to be able to do that at some point. But once again, like, the cost of that — especially if I also want to have a house — like, yeah they do … like, if you foster you get, like, a little bit of money to help out. But it's like, I want to be able to spend the money to give any kids, like, the best opportunity they could have.
KATHY: Have you thought any about what your life would be like or your future would be like if you were to get married?
MARTHA: [SIGHS] Living spaces would be so much cheaper. [BOTH LAUGH] I'd probably gain some student debt to deal with because I'm unusual in that I don't have any. But I'd also, you know, have a second income and things would get so much more affordable. And also just like … the stability of having someone like that is sort of nice. But at the same time, it's like … it's hard for me to fathom. In some ways it's sort of like I can set things up however I want. That works with like my anxieties or where I'm nervous about things. On the downside I have less money to allocate to those things but I can allocate it how I want and I don't have to worry about someone else's like differing priorities or opinions on how to allocate that money.
KATHY: How does that stack up against your wanting, like, your house with, like, the tree and that — that sort of thing.
MARTHA: It's hard. [DEEP BREATH IN]
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MARTHA: ‘Cause, yeah … It’s — it's tricky. Having my own control is nice but, yeah, I'd really like that house and an apple tree. [LAUGHS] But it's also like, I'm not going to marry someone just because, like, I want an apple tree or a yard. So it’s sort of like, I have to figure out how to work within what I have and what I am.
KATHY: But what if marriage is an option for you, and you’ve even got a partner you love and share your home with, but you just reject the whole institution of marriage? That’s coming up after the break.
TOBIN: You’re listening to Nancy.
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KATHY: When we put our call for stories about your queer money fears, a lot of you told us you don’t even know where to start.
AUBREY: When it comes to money and planning a wedding and you know setting aside finances for that and what that all looks like and in the future I just feel very lost.
TOBIN: Figuring out how to plan your money future is hard! But you don’t have to do it on your own.
KATHY: All week long over in our Facebook group, we’re sharing stories, and trading advice, about our queer money fears.
TOBIN: Today, we’re talking about marriage, the dollar benefits to getting married, and how you’re thinking about your financial future if marriage isn’t part of it.
KATHY: Join in the discussion by searching for Friends of Nancy on Facebook, or by visiting nancypodcast.org/facebook.
KATHY: Marriage equality was helpful for so many queer couples’ bottom lines. A way for them to say, “Yes, we belong in this society and deserve the same tax benefits and financial help that straight people get.” But for some people, accepting those benefits means giving up something even more important.
KAI: Hi. I'm Kai Wright and, uh, I work here at WNYC.
KATHY: And you’re a friend of the show.
KAI: And a friend of the show.
KATHY: Mhm. Kai, how long have you and your partner been together?
KAI: Well, let's see. Something like 13 years. There's a little grayness around when exactly the dating started and the “Just doin’ it” stopped.
KATHY: Ahh. [BOTH LAUGH]
KAI: But a long time — 13, 14 years.
KATHY: And, um, are you and your partner married?
KAI: We are not. We are definitely not married.
KATHY: And why not?
KAI: Because, uhh … marriage means very little to either of us, first off. I dunno, I mean, we both come from broken families. Our parents were both divorced many times. So maybe that's part of it. But, like, I don't care about marriage and he doesn't care about marriage and, y’know, not being part of the married world is something that, like, feels good to me as a gay man. Like, I don't want to be part of those institutions. I like the idea that my relationship has nothing to do with the church or the state. You know, what does, like, an institution like that have to offer my love that is a form of love that felt — and still, to me, feels radical [LAUGHS], and feels like it's challenging society, and that's part of it's joy. Why would I then join something that made it less radical?
KATHY: Well, I guess — I guess people would argue that … there are certain rights that come with marriage that will be really helpful to have.
KAI: Indeed. And I should say that I have officiated two weddings. [LAUGHS]
KATHY: You are a great officiator. I can tell.
KAI: I think I did a pretty good job —
KAI: — you know, and I have been present at a great many weddings, both gay and straight, and I have loved them and I know people who feel totally opposite of me and desperately, like, needed their marriage and wanted their marriage. And God bless them and I support it and they absolutely should have that right. Totally agree. If they’re gonna give this right out, we deserve it too. [BOTH LAUGH] Umm, I just don't know that, like, that's the … like, I'd rather just, like, not give the right out to anybody.
KATHY: Well, so, what about financial benefits. Have you thought about how much you’ve — I dunno — lost, or don’t have, from not being married?
KAI: I quite actively don't think about it! [BOTH LAUGH] It is a very willful thing in our family. Both me and — and my partner just really avoid this subject. In fact, we bought a house together a few years ago, and our tax accountant, the guy that — that sounds fancier than it is, the dude that does our taxes — [LAUGHS] immediately was like, “So, you're getting married, right?” When we filed our taxes the next year, we were like, “No, what are you talking about? We’re not getting married. Why would we do that?” And he continues to be like, “You’re gonna get married soon, right?” ‘Cause apparently we’re giving up money. I literally don't even know. I have no idea how it works. Back during this debate I remember there was all of this sort of calculating of, like, what are all the benefits and privileges that queer couples lost that same-sex couples lost from not being married. And I remember those numbers being large. And that's a scary idea, you know. [LAUGHS]
KATHY: Would you ever ask that guy — would you ever ask your tax accountant like, “How much am I actually not getting back?”
KAI: Well, we're actually, you know … So, now I've reached a certain age where one thinks more actively about one's finances [KATHY AFFIRMS, KAI LAUGHS] and the future ahead.
KAI: Things like retirement. And, so, my partner and I have begun talking about this. Like, what's the future of our money together? And we're gonna meet with a financial adviser here shortly, uh … who’s going to talk to us about what's going on in our lives and we're both kind of bracing to hear, "You know you guys really should get married.” [KATHY LAUGHS] And I don't know. Like, what is the number at which I say … ?
KATHY: What is the number?
KAI: I don't know what my number … And I'll say that I probably do have a number, you know?
KATHY: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
KAI: Because I don’t — I don't want it, I don't believe in it. But, like, not so much so that I would, like, actively hurt myself. [LAUGHS] You know?
KAI: Like, I feel like I could get married and just lie about it. And, like, tell nobody that I’m married or something like that. [KATHY LAUGHS] If the number was large enough.
KATHY: So Kai has a tipping point somewhere in his head. Nancy listeners, do you relate? We want to hear from you: what are your thoughts on marriage? If you got married, did it help or hurt your financial situation? Let us know by heading to nancypodcast.org/money.
TOBIN: And, you know, all this really dovetails with the topic of the next show.
BRYNN: My biggest concern right now is just budgeting and saving up and making sure that I have enough money to have this surgery, because there’s a lot of moving pieces that I have to orchestrate.
TOBIN: We’re talking about health care… and the lengths trans people have to take to get the care they need and the money to pay for it.
KATHY: That’s coming up next on Nancy’s Queer Money Matters.
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KATHY: Alright, that’s our show.
TOBIN: It’s credits time!
KATHY: Our producers —
TOBIN: Isabel Angell and Alice Wilder.
KATHY: Production fellow —
TOBIN: Temi Fagbenle.
KATHY: Editor —
TOBIN: Stephanie Joyce.
KATHY: Sound designer —
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom and Jared Paul.
KATHY: Executive Producer —
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman.
KATHY: Special thanks to Tigue who contributed music to this episode.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
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