Governments should not tax the health premiums paid by gay couples

Much is said about marriage equality for same-sex couples, and this paper fully supports the right of gay couples to wed. But at a broader level, there is vast inequality in other ways in which the government treats same-sex couples.

Consider health insurance.

If one member of a same-sex couple adds his or her partner to a health insurance plan, the federal government treats the benefits’ premiums as income for the second person. In essence, the feds are taxing health care as income for same-sex couples, including domestic partners, under the Defense of Marriage Act.

In San Francisco and Sacramento, two lawmakers are fighting for reimbursements and state tax breaks to offset the injustice that those federal rules cause.

Supervisor Mark Farrell is leading the charge locally, with legislation that would provide payments to San Francisco municipal workers to offset such federal taxes. Farrell told The San Francisco Examiner that it would cost The City’s general fund roughly half a million dollars each year to offset the taxes for the few hundred city and county workers who are registered as being married or in domestic partnerships.

“This is another form of same-sex discrimination,” Farrell said.

In Sacramento, Assemblyman Phil Ting, the former assessor-recorder of San Francisco, introduced legislation that would provide a state tax break in the amount of the federal tax charged for health care. That legislation, which Farrell also supports, is still pending a committee assignment.

Of course, two cases headed to the U.S. Supreme Court could make this entire issue moot. The court has agreed to hear challenges to Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, and the Defense of Marriage Act. A sweeping court ruling could legalize same-sex marriage across the country. But a narrow court ruling also is possible, and considered by many observers to be more likely. Thus, the federal tax penalty could still exist after the high court decisions.

With that in mind, both of these pieces of legislation should garner the full backing of everyone who believes in equal rights.

In the best-case scenario, Ting’s statewide legislation would pass and the tax break would go into place for same-sex couples across the entire state. Of course, Sacramento contains a more ideologically diverse group of lawmakers and two chambers through which the bill must pass before its approval by the governor. But surely even some conservatives can get behind the notion of tax fairness for all Californians?

Farrell’s local legislation has a much better chance of approval by the full Board of Supervisors.

While the continued fight should be toward marriage rights for all same-sex couples in the U.S., chipping away at the corners of inequality is also appropriate. Especially when the inequality in question is a financially punitive measure that discourages some people from buying health care.


editorialsOpinionPhil TingSan Francisco Board of Supervisors

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