New report demonstrates the unfair financial penalties same-sex couples face

Editors' Note: This guest post was written by Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of the Movement Advancement Project. 

While we wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to announce whether or not they will address the freedom to marry for same-sex couples this term by granting review in one or more of the 5 cases currently pending, a new report examines the devastating impact of marriage bans, as well as other discriminatory laws, on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans’ economic security.

We already know how marriage bans can be emotionally devastating for same-sex couples who simply want the same promise and dream of marriage as other Americans. But what is less visible is how these bans, coupled with other anti-LGBT laws, can seriously undermine LGBT people and their families’ economic security, often trapping them in a crushing cycle of poverty.

The link between denial of marriage and increased poverty rates is thoroughly examined in a new report, Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in AmericaThe report outlines how marriage affects everything from access to safety net programs to intestacy laws to a family’s ability to obtain healthcare coverage.

The data are stark: An analysis by the Williams Institute in 2013 found that in states that respect the marriages of same-sex couples, lesbian couples and different-sex couples experience roughly the same poverty rates (5.9% compared to 5.7%, respectively). However, in states lacking marriage or comprehensive relationship recognition, lesbian couples have dramatically higher rates of poverty while the poverty rates for different-sex couples remains almost unchanged (8.0% vs. 5.8% respectively).

Similarly, a 2014 analysis looking at couples raising children found that the average income for same-sex and different-sex couples is almost identical in states with marriage recognition; same-sex couples earn just $689 less per year. However, in states lacking marriage recognition, same-sex couples raising children earn a shocking $8,912 less than their heterosexual parent counterparts.

Ironically, marriage bans not only contribute to poverty and economic insecurity within the LGBT community, they do the most harm to the most vulnerable in the LGBT community, including those who already struggle to make ends meet, families with children, and older adults. For a family on the brink, denial of marriage can mean choosing between putting food on the table or paying a lawyer to put in place wills, parenting agreements, and other documents to protect the family.

Denial of marriage also has serious implications for children being raised by same-sex parents. The majority of states that deny marriage for same-sex couples also lack laws that allow two same-sex parents to both become legal parents of a child, another serious challenge to family security that is easily resolved by extending the freedom to marry to all couples.

Make sure to read the entire report, Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in America, released today, September 30, and co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress, in partnership with the Center for Community Change, the Center for Popular Democracy, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association.

And watch a new video produced as a part of the groundbreaking report: