Monday, March 01, 2004

How Does Thy Country Love Thee? Let Thee Count The Ways
Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 879 makes it illegal to threaten certain individuals guarded by the Secret Service, including the President, the Vice President and their families. At first blush, you wouldn't think the statute has anything to do with the war over gay marriage. But consider this: that law makes it a federal crime to threaten the husband of Elizabeth Cheney, one of the Vice President's daughters. But it does not outlaw threats against the lesbian partner of Mary Cheney, his younger daughter. Legally speaking, Mary's partner is not a member of the Vice President's family but, rather, a total stranger to it.

The difference in the marital status of the Cheney daughters has myriad other consequences — Section 879 of Title 18 is just one of the 1,138 federal laws that apply to Americans who are married. Taken together, these statutes offer substantial lucre to anyone who weds. For instance, the law allows Phil to give his wife Liz all the money he wants, tax free — even if the money is part of a divorce settlement. But gays who get gifts from their partners (or exes) must pay taxes on the goods as though the partners were mere acquaintances. This disparity is most searing at the end of life. According to figures from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights-advocacy group, if Jane dies and leaves a 401(k) worth $162,000 to Heather (who makes, say, $30,000 a year), Heather's tax bill will rise from $3,000 to more than $49,000. If Heather were Heath, however, he would pay nothing more.


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