Myths about gays and wealth

March 21, 2008

A RECENT study by the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles shatters many of the myths in the U.S. about gay couples and wealth.

The study, based on U.S. Census data from 2000, compares gay and lesbian couples to heterosexual couples in terms of median income, wealth (such as home ownership) and resources available to raise children. While the median income for same-sex couples' households is slightly higher than for straight couples, the figure drops significantly when raising children is factored in. Same-sex couples raising children reported a median income of $46,200, compared to $59,600 for straight couples.

A large part of this gap is due to the fact that even if same-sex couples are fortunate to enjoy domestic partner benefits, such as health insurance, those benefits are taxed. Spousal benefits for straight couples aren't taxed. One lesbian couple interviewed in Arizona described the impact of this extra tax for them. Tina Merrell estimated this penalty at about $10,000 per year to cover her partner and their child on her health insurance.

In addition, same-sex couples are far less likely at the national level to own their homes as compared to straight couples. This fact suggests that many same-sex couples do not have the same access to wealth--rather than just income--that many straight couples have.

This study is important for a number of reasons. First, it suggests a sea change in attitudes in U.S. society in that so many gay and lesbian couples across the country felt comfortable in reporting such data on the Census in the first place. The findings reported for Arizona show that a significant number of same-sex couples are found all across the state, from metro Phoenix to the Navajo Nation to the U.S.-Mexico border.

But more important, it challenges a widely held assumption that openly gay people are wealthier than the average straight person. Instead, these findings begin to document the real impact of structural discrimination against LGBT people in terms of being denied the thousand-plus legal and financial rights afforded by marriage; the constant insecurity over legal parental rights; and the huge gap in access to resources and wealth.

The findings are also broken down state by state and include income comparisons for men and women, not just couples. To see the findings for your state, go to the Williams Institute Web site.
Jeff Bale, Phoenix

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