Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Few More Steps Toward Equality

(The image above is from the website Solid Rarity: realities of living the revolution.)

The United States Constitution guarantees all citizens equal treatment under the law. Sadly, this country has never been able to live up to that promise. Progress has been made in granting equality to minorities, women, and more recently to the LGBT community. None of these groups truly have equality yet, but we are getting closer to making it a reality all the time. This week more small, but important, steps were taken toward that goal -- this time in the area of equal rights for those in same-sex marriages.

The first is in the area of taxes. Even though same-sex marriage is legal in a growing number of states, these marriages have not been treated equally by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These same-sex married couples have never been allowed to file their taxes as a married couple, and thus were denied the tax advantages that heterosexual married couple are able to get. That is changing.

The IRS announced last week that from now on same-sex and opposite-sex couples will be treated equally. Those couples in same-sex marriages (who were legally married in a state allowing such marriages) will now be able to file their taxes jointly as a married couple. And even better, they will be able to do that regardless of what state they currently live in. In other words, if they get married in a state where same-sex marriages are legal and then move to a state where those marriages are not legal, they will still be able to file their taxes as a married couple.

And the IRS is not the only government agency to take action to promote more equality. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also done so. This week they announced that same-sex married couples will be treated just like opposite-sex married couples in regard to the nursing home care provided under Medicare. This means they will no longer have to be separated and sent to different nursing homes in their old-age (or pay their own way to stay in the same nursing home). Thank goodness for that. It is just morally wrong to force these elderly couples to separate just because they need nursing home care paid for by Medicare.

And a federal court has also taken action. Even though DOMA was outlawed and the military now grants same-sex couples the same benefits as opposite-sex couples, the same was not true for veterans. That's because Title 38 of the U.S. Code prevented it. But Judge Consuelo B. Marshall has overturned that provision, saying it was not rational -- and thus was unconstitutional. Now the same-sex spouses of veterans will be able to get the same benefits and services as other spouses of veterans.

The federal government inched a little bit closer to making equality a reality last week. That's a good thing. Now we need to finish the fight -- not just for the LGBT community, but for all citizens currently denied equal rights. Maybe someday soon, we can make that constitutional guarantee of equality a reality for all American citizens.

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