THE BLOG

Falling Rocks: 33 Years and Finally IRS Justice for Gay Couples

08/30/2013 08:41 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

When I was a kid lawyer working at a big San Francisco law firm, and then as the head of litigation for Apple Computer, Inc., a small group of us in a few industries worked in between the cracks and crevasses of our regular jobs to bring equitable gay and lesbian workplace policies to every company we could. It was exotic then and just a handful of companies like Lotus Corporation and the Village Voice had actually implemented domestic partner coverage. We started focusing on basic nondiscrimination policies and domestic partner coverage in key industries like high technology, media and entertainment. I travelled every chance I could to help companies like Kodak, Disney, General Mills and so many more in those years. A young man named Richard Jennings was doing similar work among the entertainment companies in Hollywood.

Later when I came to head the Human Rights Campaign, we introduced the Corporate Equality Index, which helped light a fire under many major companies, cross-industry and cross-geography. It woke up so many amazing LGBT employee leaders and set them on a path to seek basic equity in their workplaces. Because LGBT employees were fundamentally valued and with the on the ground work of Out and Equal and the HRC Workplace team and Business Council, the process of adopting these policies moved like a grass fire --- at record speed, really --- in so many sectors. Today, most of the Fortune 1000 have adopted some aspect of the policies set forth in the CEI. Even Wal-Mart (a long source of frustration for many doing this work) broke through and added domestic partner coverage to their employee benefits this week. Lets give credit where it is due: Congratulations to Wal-Mart on this excellent decision.

But an even more profound thing happened yesterday, and as my dear friend Terry Bean points out: Elections Matter!!! In yet another brilliant stroke for basic justice and equality, President Obama and his administration (Treasury and IRS) issued guidance yesterday that made clear that in post-DOMA America, the federal government for a variety of benefits (such as federal tax filings, issues of dependency, inheritance tax, marital deduction and tax treatment of domestic partnership coverage) will look to l the state where the same gender couple was married, even if they live in a state where such marriages are not recognized. or decades, LGBT employees have had to bear major tax burdens with none of the benefits. We have carried large tax rocks on our backs for our entire tax-paying lives. Yesterday those boulders and rocks cracked in two and fell into the abyss of history. All because of President Obama and his excellent administration.

The three paragraphs I have just written represent over 50 years of work. For example, we have been trying to change the tax treatment of health care coverage for gay people and their families since the mid-1980s. Unlike straight married couples the gay employee has always had to pay a tax based on the entire value of the benefit, not just the premiums. This put this benefit out of the reach of many gay couples and until now, the IRS would not change its treatment of DP Benefits. And then, yesterday, with one announcement, years of frustration and burden swept away. We are marching, indeed.

We are not done. For example, there is no federal nondiscrimination law for LGBT people in private employment. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act would provide basic nondiscrimination protection and that must get passed. Yesterday we got the saddle and bridle --- we still need the horse.

I know my HuffPost entries are too long. But the historic context is important. These days in which we live are breathtaking and inspiring, just like our president.