A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in Fem 2.0’s “Work/Life in Our Communities Blog Radio Series” as part of a panel on “Work/Life and LGBT Families: Reimagining Policy for ALL Families in the 21st Century.” The radio series is part of their larger 2010 Wake Up! Campaign, which also includes a blog carnival running through Saturday.
This is my contribution to the carnival.
My personal story of work/life balance as an LGBT person is pretty boring. My employers and my spouse’s employers have all offered full recognition and benefits to same-sex partners. We’ve never had any trouble with co-workers about our orientation. Heck, my co-workers threw us a baby shower. Sure, there was the amusing issue of sitting in a meeting, obviously flat-stomached, and having to mention that I might have to leave early because I was having a baby any minute now—but my straight, about-to-adopt co-worker was in a similar situation. (They threw her a baby shower, too.)
My work/life issues therefore are mostly the same as those faced by people of all gender identities and orientations—finding the time for both work and family, dividing household work with my spouse, and so forth.
There is some evidence, however (ably analyzed by sociologist Abbie Goldberg in her Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children), that same-sex couples as a whole divide household work more equitably than opposite-sex ones. Indeed, when I tell straight moms that my spouse gave birth to our son, and stayed home for the first eight months or so, at which point we switched because of shifting job opportunities, they look at me like I’m from Mars.
It’s nice to have that flexibility.
At the same time, the flexibility has limits.
I have my medical benefits through my spouse’s employer. Even though we are legally married in Massachusetts, however, she still has to pay income tax on my coverage, a burden straight people don’t have.
The typical current cost of health care insurance for the non-working spouse is $100-200/month. Those in the 28% tax bracket are paying $28-56/month or $336-672/year just in additional taxes on health insurance for the stay-at-home spouse. Assuming that health care costs rise at about 5%, and that the money could have instead been invested and earn an 8% return, a 30-year-old couple loses $114,000 – 228,000 that would have been available to them at retirement at age 65.
In opposite-sex marriages, when one person stays home to care for their children, the wage earner can also contribute $5,000 to an IRA for the stay-at-home spouse. Same-sex couples do not have this benefit. A 30-year-old opposite-sex couple can stash away over $860,000 for retirement, and same-sex families cannot. This becomes more than just a matter of retirement, however. Extra money needed to retire at a reasonable age means less money available for children’s everyday needs and/or college savings.
Same-sex couples may therefore be free of certain gender-based expectations related to who stays home with the kids, but we face financial burdens that may limit our ability to do so.
We also face the fact that we can still be fired in many states simply for being LGBT. The federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) has had a long and rocky journey in Congress, and its fate is unclear. Ask yourself: Do you know if your state, city, or employer has such protections anyway? Do you know if your employer (particularly large corporations) supports a federal ENDA? Have you contacted your own members of Congress about it?
It is perhaps no surprise that research from UCLA’s Williams Institute shows that same-sex headed families, especially lesbian-headed families, are significantly more likely to be poor than those headed by opposite-sex married couples. Children in gay and lesbian couple households have poverty rates twice those of children in heterosexual married couple households.
I am grateful to have had inclusive employers and to have lived in states that are among the best in terms of LGBT rights. The country as a whole, however, has a long way to go.
I would urge people, however, not to position LGBT employment issues as solely a matter of equality for the LGBT community, but as a matter of good economic sense. Running an effective company—or country—means helping all employees to be as productive as possible. That means treating them fairly and providing the resources they need to balance both family needs and the demands of their jobs. In an economy that needs all the help it can get, we should do no less.
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