“Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed” wrote the 18th century writer Daniel Dafoe. This truthful statement comes to mind once a year like clockwork during February when I file my federal and state taxes. I file early because, as a father, I usually get a tax credit for my son. The rest of the taxes I file as a single man, though in reality I’m not a single man. I’m a divorced man. And, I’m a man with a partner of 17 years and counting. While we are not recognized as husband and husband or in a civil union in the eyes of the federal or state government, there was the feeling of permanence to the relationship when we bought our first house years ago. Because we’ve never lived in a state in which we could celebrate a civil union or domestic partnership, e.g., Oregon, or marry, e.g., Massachusetts, we’ve never had a ritualistic ceremony of union in which we exchanged rings; no jumping the broom; and no chuppah or canopy over us as one or both of us broke a glass in a dainty napkin. Instead, we bought a house and every year I am reminded that it is the one thing that we did to more-or-less “cement” our relationship in the eyes of the state and federal government. This is also especially true when I mark that I am the head of the household (I’m older, so there).
As I filed my taxes, this is the reality that I must tell you about: I am paying taxes to governments — federal and state — that treat my partner and me as second class citizens. I pay into a social security system in which I will not be able to inherit my partner’s share if he were to die first (unlike my mom who still gets my dad’s social security check). We do not get the option to file jointly as my brother and his wife do in their state and federal taxes, thus seeking any other tax credits. And, if he were to die first (God forbid), I would not directly inherit his share of the wealth we have accrued, but would have to pay a tax for it. I cannot check the box “married” on either tax form, but mark “single,” when I am anything but single, tethered as I am into so many relationships.
And, what don’t we get in return? We don’t get the right to marry. We don’t get the right to share medical or joint retirement benefits from our respective employer (we both work for the state of North Carolina as public employees).We don’t get to legally inherit each other’s earnings or belongings. We don’t get the right to make medical decisions at the hospital were one of us sick. We are figuratively and literally two individuals who are treated as roommates in the eyes of the federal government and the state of North Carolina. Nothing more and nothing less.
There is something within me that wants to pull a Henry David Thoreau and mount an act of civil disobedience. Maybe I should withhold my taxes until I can honestly report who and whose I am on my tax return. Maybe I should conduct a “sit in” at the N.C. Department of Revenue building as a protest, with a big sign simply saying “unfair!” by my Occupy Raleigh tent. Or, I could perhaps lead a pilgrimage of protest, gathering other LGBTQ people who are not able to honestly mark who they are on their tax returns from Chapel Hill and Durham to Raleigh. Count on this: when DOMA is over-turned, we will be ready to mark our tax returns just like my straight parents and straight brother and sister-in-law do every year until the next sure thing in life finally hits us both: death. : :