Cambridge, Mass. To Pay Married Gay Couples More

The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts will start paying employees who are part of a legal same-sex marriage more to offset the additional federal taxes they must pay because they are unable to file their Federal taxes as a married couple:

When the city of Cambridge issues paychecks to its public employees, nearly two dozen workers find a federal tax on their income that their colleagues don’t have to pay.

Like many people, these 22 school and city workers chose to put their spouses on their employer-provided health insurance. Because they’re in a homosexual relationship, the value of that health coverage is considered taxable income by the federal government.

But starting this month, Cambridge will become what is believed to be the first municipality in the country to pay its public employees a stipend in an attempt to defray the cost of the federal tax on health benefits for their same-sex spouses.

The city employees hit by the extra tax pay an additional $1,500 to $3,000 in taxes a year and officials estimate the stipends would cost the city an additional $33,000.

“This is about equality,” said Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge city councilor. “This is a city that models what equality really means.”

Of the thousands of legally married gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts, none can receive the federal benefits offered to heterosexual married couples because the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

Those benefits include Social Security survivors’ benefits, immigration rights, family leave and the ability to file joint tax returns

This is all necessary because Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as only being between a man and woman. Until that’s struck down, I suspect you’ll see public and private employees doing things like this.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Vast Variety says:

    The cost of DOMA and state sanctioned discrimination.

  2. James Joyner says:

    This is almost certainly illegal. Surely, a heterosexual employee will sue on the basis that the state is discriminating against him for having chosen to marry someone of the opposite sex.

  3. Gustopher says:

    The company I work for does this. We have about 10,000 employees, and a whole bunch of them are lawyers (one or more of whom are bound to be hateful bigots, based on the numbers), so I doubt that it is “almost certainly illegal”.

  4. KipEsquire says:

    Of course, these couples are in actuality not “paid more.” They are simply receiving a benefit equally available to all employees who meet well-defined criteria.

    Cf. #1: Free day care for childless employees — illegal and/or outrageous?

    Cf #2: “A gay man is just as free to marry a woman as a straight man.” Illegal and/or outrageous?

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: How could it possibly be legal to pay some employees more than others on the basis of whom they’re married to?

    @KipEsquire: My wife’s firm allows spouses and children to be covered under the generous health plan at no additional cost. Indeed, I don’t participate in my employer’s free health plan because I’m better off under hers. But this is a case of providing a benefit to everyone that only some people are actually in a position to take advantage of, not paying more money to married workers. (Even if it essentially means just that.)

    So:

    1. No.

    2. Irrelevant.

    The bottom line is that a government–not a private company– is discriminating on the basis of people participating in traditional marriage. That’s problematic, even if well intentioned.

  6. Guthrum says:

    The best solution is not to allow gay marriage to start with. This creates huge problems.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    The best solution is not to allow gay marriage to start with. This creates huge problems.

    On the contrary, if federal law recognized SSM, these types of local solutions wouldn’t be necessary…

  8. I thought Republicans were opposed to the marriage penalty?

  9. Gustopher says:

    I’m pre

  10. Gustopher says:

    My iPhone hates your site, it just posts at random.

    I’m pretty sure the benefit is written that the company will reimburse the tax penalties for those whose legal marriage is not recognized by the federal government. So, not actually carving out a special payment for gays.

    Plus, are there actually federal and state statutes requiring equal pay for differing sexual minorities? I’m pretty sure the Republicans have done everything they could to prevent that, which likely means that a Big Gay Bonus is legal in most jurisdictions.

  11. Vast Variety says:

    @James Joyner The military pays service members who are married more than it pays members who are not. At least they did when I was in the Air Force in the ’90’s

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Vast Variety: That’s true, although it’s a policy I always opposed. The rationale, supposedly, was that the dependent spouse was sacrificing their own career by constantly moving. But I’m not sure how it didn’t constitute discrimination against singles.

  13. Robert in SF says:

    @James Joyner: James, could you please clarify/expand on your position?

    Are you saying this should be illegal? Or is likely illegal? Or is it just unfair/discriminatory?
    Or a combo of the above?

    And if so, could you please help me understand why? A reasonable interpretation so far of your comments is that you think the government should pay each employee the same for the same job, with a standard benefits package that takes into account that not all employees will make the same choices, and therefore should be the absolute minimum to avoid discrimination of an employee’s life choices or options and therefore not be able to take advantage of a benefit?

    For example, bereavement pay: should employees without close family set the standard for those who do, such that an employee whose father dies can’t take bereavement pay?

    Or jury duty pay: should non-registered voters/non-eligible-to-serve-on-juries set the standard such that people who do get called for jury duty won’t be paid for their time off?

    The tax-subsidy-benefit described in this article provides a different source to the same benefit provided to the employees…one source for the “straight” marriages is the federal system (spouses aren’t taxed on the benefit at all), but same-gender marriages’ source (for the benefit of, in the end, no tax burden from the insurance coverage) is the local employer….

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Robert in SF: Government employers should offer the same benefits to all workers. That doesn’t mean everyone will get the same payouts.

    If I’m healthy, I don’t get to take sick days much less get a free liver transplant from the health plan. But I know that it’s there for me if I get sick.

    Similarly, if I’m single, I can’t bring my wife and kids into my plan. But that’s not the government discriminating against me.

    This is different. The state is paying people more money on the basis of being gay married. That’s discrimination on account of sex against the vast majority of employees who get married in the more traditional manner.

    It’s true that this is being done to offset a federal policy of not recognizing same-sex marriages. But the federal government has NEVER recognized same-sex marriages. It will, presumably, do so within a few years.

  15. This may be discrimination, but it’s not illegal discrimination. Neither sexual orientation (ironically thanks to anti-gay advocates) nor marital status is a federally protected class.

  16. It’s almost genius actually, as any litigation over this policy is a win-win. If the plaintiffs win, there’s now a legal precedent that you can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientations. If the plaintiffs lose, there’s a precedent against DOMA.

  17. Vast Variety says:

    @James the local government wants to give them the same benefits but because of DOMA they can’t. So the only other option is to try and make up for the failure of the federal government. Until DOMA is repealed or struck down in court for the unconstitutional mess that it is what else is there that can be done?

    The benefits would be the same if the federal government wasn’t interfering.