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Isobel White Headshot

Legal Same-sex Marriage: The True Paperwork Reduction Act

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The pros and cons of same-sex marriage have been debated endlessly, but there's one advantage that is routinely ignored: saving trees.

Yes, without all the cumbersome and repetitive paperwork same-sex couples now have to complete just to prove they are committed to each other, think of all the forests that could be left standing.

Here's just a sampling of the paperwork my wife and I have had to fill out in our nine years together, almost all of which would not have been required if we were just simply married:

- Registered domestic partnership. Twice. Once for the state, once for the city.
- Marriage certificates. Twice. 2004 marriage in San Francisco was ruled invalid; outcome of 2008 marriage is still pending CA Supreme Court review.
- Name change paperwork (plus court appearance).
- Paperwork adding her to the title of the house.
- Paperwork proving that we didn't have to pay transfer tax in our city when she was added to the title.
- Power of attorney for finances.
- Medical power of attorney.
- Paperwork to have me on her health insurance.
- Paperwork to tax her for having me on her health insurance.
- Paperwork to ensure that we are both considered equal parents to our daughter.

And halfway recognition of our relationship brings its own paperwork: because Registered Domestic Partners in the state of California must now file joint tax returns -- but because we're not allowed to file together federally -- we had to complete one federal return for me, one federal return for her, one joint dummy return to show what we would be paying the feds if our marriage were legally recognized, and one joint state return based on that dummy federal return. (A process that's particularly galling given that we can't, in fact, enjoy any of the over 1,100 federal benefits and protections available to married couples -- such as passing on Social Security benefits to the surviving spouse.)

The most recent spate of paperwork only added to the mess: because we are refinancing and my wife's name has changed, we needed to change how we hold title. Our choices: registered domestic partners or married couple? We are a legally married couple right now. We can legally check that box. But will we be able to do so in a month? Or would we have to change how we hold title yet again?

We were advised that while we could check the married couple box, it might set off red flags with the lender, forcing us to kill yet more trees to get it all straightened out (bad pun intended). It's an "insecure" way to hold title, said our escrow officer.

Which is the simplest statement about what's wrong with domestic partnership, civil unions, or any other consolation prize that isn't marriage: in the end, anything besides marriage is just plain insecure.

And a tree-killer.

(See this site for actions to protest the cost of being gay this tax season.)