With momentum for marriage equality rolling ahead and acceptance of LGBT issues at an all-time high in polls, it can sometimes be easy to forget just how pervasive institutional discrimination against LGBT people can be.
And then you get a letter in the mail reminding you of just that.
My husband, whom I legally wed in California prior to Proposition 8 passing (thereby being grandfathered into a state of pseudo-marriage-equality limbo), got a letter in the mail from TIAA-CREF Financial Services, entitled "Notice Regarding Civil Unions in the State of Illinois." The letter, like a slap in the face, laid out in stark terms exactly how the patchwork of rights created by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) affects same-sex couples in ways many don't even consider.
The letter states:
Pursuant to Section 3 of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), same-sex couples and civil unions are not recognized for the purposes of federal law. Therefore, the favorable income-deferral options afforded by federal tax law to an opposite-sex spouse under Internal Revenue Code sections 72(s) and 401(a)(9) and "spousal continuation" rights are currently not available to a party in a civil union.
This is what discrimination looks like, even when it comes in a form letter. There on a page, in black and white, is a reminder to same-sex couples that their relationships aren't viewed as equal in the eyes of their government. I'm not sure many heterosexual couples can imagine what it's like to open your mail and get a letter like this out of the blue, a written dig at your life and family. Being reminded, even by something as innocuous as a tax update about life insurance or annuity plans, can still sting.
We fight for marriage equality for a reason. People who think that civil unions are equal "just without the word marriage" need only look at the harsh language of this simple form letter to see that nothing short of full equality for all couples will be enough. And to be sure, the anger that is felt when we get caught off guard by moments like these only fuels us to fight harder.
There will be a day when reminders of our inequity, of how we are viewed as second-class citizens by our government, like this tax notice, will be a thing of the past. But until then I'll keep opening our mail with that little feeling of trepidation, always wondering what insult to the life and family we've built may be lurking inside.
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