What It's Really All About
I still don't think of myself as married, even though it's been nearly three years since Karen and I tied the knot in a little gay-owned bed and breakfast in Vancouver, British Columbia. I have to admit that I've always been one of those who feel that not having to get married or join the army are two great perks of being gay. But with the country's rightward tilt tending toward out and out fascism, we decided we wanted to get married as a political statement.
As it turned out, it was an unexpectedly emotional experience for both of us. We chose traditional vows: for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. The commissioner who performed the service was warm and friendly, and two lovely women who were friends of friends (and are now friends in their own right) served as our witnesses.
Talking afterwards to our Canadian friends, the commissioner, and the owner of the bed and breakfast, though, we were surprised to hear from all of them that gay Canadians aren't nearly as interested in marriage as Americans. Part of it was that they simply don't feel as attacked as their American counterparts. In fact, when the conservative new prime minister, Stephen Harper, put gay marriage to the test in Parliament again last year, as he had promised, it actually got more votes than when it came up the first time.
But I think the bigger factor in gay Canadians' relative indifference to marriage is Canada's universal health care system. Here in the states, the most devastating consequence of the anti-marriage equality amendments sweeping the country is the potential loss of health insurance for domestic partners and their children. As Karen's domestic partner, I have been covered under her insurance policy for over a decade. I'm now in my early fifties, and I can tell you that I do not want to even contemplate the prospect of finding my own insurance at this stage of life.
But it looks a lot of people are going to have to do just that. Recently, courts in my home state of Michigan have ruled that the anti-gay marriage amendment passed in 2004 forbids public institutions from offering domestic partner benefits. If this ruling stands, it will spread to all the other states that have voted for these amendments, and countless people will lose their health insurance. People being treated for cancer. Children with asthma. People with all sorts of pre-existing conditions who need regular treatment and drugs.
Imagine how you'd feel if you woke up to find that the people of your state had voted to revoke your health insurance.
Come to think of it, you don't really have to imagine, because George Bush and the GOP are working hard to do just that at this very moment. In his State of the Union address, GWB proposed a tax-credit health care initiative that would destroy our current employer-based healthcare system. If passed, it would allow-or even encourage-employers to drop health care benefits for employees, on the grounds that people would be able to obtain it on the open market with their tax credits.
How does that sound?
Bush bases his radical proposal on the extremely dubious claim that over-use of insurance is to blame for rising health-care costs. In fact, using insurance for check-ups, mammograms, colonoscopies, and other regular screening protocols helps prevent health disasters and saves money in the long run-if you count the cost to society and not just to the insurance industry.
What most commentaries on this plan fail to mention, however, is that it would also slash Social Security benefits, killing two benefits with one stone. As economist Dean Baker explains in his blog of February 3, 2007: " . . . the Bush plan refunds Social Security tax payments on the first $15k of wages for workers who have a family insurance policy. For a worker earning $20k a year, this would mean most of their SS taxes would be refunded, but they would also see their benefits cut by close to 60 percent when they retire." (My emphasis.)
You might think Bush's plan has little chance of passing, and you'd be right, but that isn't the only attack on heterosexual health insurance that's being launched as we speak. The drastic Medicare and Medicaid cuts proposed in GWB's 2008 budget actually amount to a phase-out of Medicare. Once again, Dean Baker gives the context and the full implications of the GOP plan.
According to Baker's blog entry of February 11, media accounts have failed to show just how much money families currently receive from Medicare and Medicaid: "Medicare and Medicaid spending come to about "8,300 for a family of four in 2007, and $11,300 for a family of four in 2012. In other words, this is real money."
But the more important point (covered in Baker's blog entry for February 4) has to do with Bush's proposal to change rules on indexing Medicare's means-testing cut-offs. By dropping the index, more and more people over time will face a means test for their benefits, until eventually everyone is paying full price for what was once a government-subsidized program designed to help keep senior citizens, widows, orphans, and the disabled from falling into poverty as a result of health-care costs.
I'd like to think that if people understood this connection, they wouldn't be quite so quick to vote their neighbors' benefits out of existence. In the last election, Arizona seemed to prove just that. Activists there waged a campaign based on loss of benefits, and the measure went down.
Even though a majority of people favor universal health care in this country, special interests, specifically the trillion-dollar insurance and pharmaceutical industries, have managed to prevent it. Amendments against gay marriage distract us from our common interest and divide us from potential allies in this all-important battle.
It's time to spread the word that this is a fight we can win if we all work together. Because taking care of each other is what it's really all about.