Monday, July 23, 2007

In praise of equal rights; in opposition to double pay

Having spent the last weekend in San Francisco (more on that in a forthcoming post, as soon as somebody forwards me some pictures), the topic of gay rights, community, and the like is fresh in my mind. This was only highlighted by a chapter I read in David Rakoff's Don't Get Too Comfortable (recommended) in which the gay author basically rants for 15 pages, wondering how Log Cabin Republicans can live with themselves and why they must be so cute yet so Republican. So I'm a little bit irritated today when I happen upon an article about a man who has been ordered to continue paying alimony to his now-lesbian ex-wife, even though she's in an official registered domestic partnership that, in California, more or less mirrors the rights that come with marriage.

I have no opinion about any of the procedural issues involved, contractual waivers, estoppel, or any of that nonsense. Let's even say that, procedurally, things work out in the ex-wife's favor. But assuming that this lesbian ex-wife would favor legal recognition of her right to marry her domestic partner, and assuming further that she considers her own domestic partnership to be equivalent to a marriage, I find it incredibly intellectually dishonest and opportunistic for her to argue that she's entitled to continue receiving alimony from her ex-husband. The law is quite clear that alimony ends when the person receiving it gets married. She she probably thinks of herself as married. The law basically thinks of her as married, minus the pretty little word. But insomuch as it is economically convenient for her to not to be married, she isn't. I'm not saying I don't make certain political choices because of financial expedience, but when somebody compromises on issues that cut to the core of who they are because it entitles them to a bonus $1,250 per month that, frankly, they probably don't really need at this point, it disgusts me. This is like me endorsing a law that restricts the civil right of Jews in exchange for a monthly welfare check...even if I don't consider Judaism to be the one-and-only of my identity, it's pretty deeply etched in there. I'll pass on the check.

And how is this any better than the divorcee in a 7-year relationship who refuses to work and refuses to get married because it would cut off the flow of alimony checks? I happen to take exception to a lot of the law on alimony, child support, community property, and the like. This is just symptomatic.

I genuinely hope that, when the Supreme Court of California finally rules on the same-sex marriage case later this year or early next year, the legalize it. And I equally genuinely hope that, when that time comes, Melinda Kirkwood of Orange County is legally barred from getting one.

But even the law isn't as spiteful and vindictive as I am.

1 comment:

andrea said...

I think the problem here is assuming that the ex-wife DOES consider herself married, and then heaping all your scorn on her. I think she probably considers herself emotionally "married," as do most couples who have commitment ceremonies or whatever. But a DP or a civil union isn't a LEGAL marriage - that was the point in setting up these parallel institutions, right? The law doesn't consider her married, it considers her in a DP - and CA's law is very good, but it's not equivalent. I think it makes perfect sense for someone in her position to say, "Sure, I WOULD legally marry my partner...but I'm not allowed to. As soon as I can get an actual marriage, with all the symbolism and benefits of one, I will agree that I am legally married." I think this makes way more sense with this "core of who you are" think you're getting at - if she cares about the right to marry, it goes against her sense of fairness to say, "oh well, a DP's just as good anyway."

Plus, the legislature could have easily added this situation to the DP law and didn't - "married or in a DP" - one more demonstration of how these are not parallel institutions.