CIVILesbianIZATION: Less Social, More Singular, More Secure
Around tax time, I feel quintessentially American. Although there’s a moment of shock and disbelief when I enter the amount of money paid to the US government by my employers - "on my behalf" - over the course of the year, once the shock wears off, I’m happy to be a taxed and contributing to the overall well-being of our country.
One number, however, gives me pause: social security.
While the Social Security tax is a relatively small amount of the total annual tax payment, the benefits are large. Unfortunately, so is the difference between how lesbian and gay couples and heterosexual married couples are treated when it comes to these benefits. My solution, however, is not similar treatment (e.g. marriage equality); rather, I’d like to see our social security system move from marriage-based to a a system that benefits individuals.
When Social Security was established under the Roosevelt administration in 1935, it was designed to provide financial support for retired workers, so that they would continue to receive income. Benefits to disabled workers, widows and orphans came later. The workforce has changed drastically since 1933. Among other things, there are many more women working today and the number of single people has increased. The system put in place more than 70 years ago is no longer relevant; Social Security should be restructured so that it’s no longer based on the model of a heterosexual couple, with the male as the primary earner. Social Security should be reframed to recognize - and be based on - individual workers.
Here’s my stake in this. Right now, my beloved will receive a larger benefit from social security than I will, and it’s possible that by the time we retire, the value of her social security benefits to me as a widow would be greater than my own. That is, if my partner were a man and my husband, I would get more in retirement by claiming her social security than my own. Of course, as a lesbian couple we can’t do that. To me, one remedy to this situation is to simply give social security benefits to individual workers and not link them for married couples.
In fact, in the long run, this is likely more secure than moving to a system of social security in which gay and lesbian partnerships are recognized. How? Social Security policy was written to promote normative, heterosexual families, but it doesn’t need to be. Changing the policies to be less social - particularly the type of social that is normative and heterosexual - benefits not only lesbian and gay people, but also bisexual and transgender people, as well as an array of people who don’t organize their social and sexual lives in a binary fashion. Let’s move from the binary to the singular, amd make things more equal for everyone.
While that’s easy to say, as a feminist, however, I recognize that there are groups of heterosexual women who would be disadvantaged by this and that it can present challenges for some families. The solution, in my mind, is to first analyze the conditions of the current system and then institute incremental changes, and make the transition over the next 15 to 20 years. The result would be a system that’s fair - and singular.
Although I chafe a bit philosophically at the singularity and individuality of this plan and fancy my ideal world as more communal (though through kinship bonds as opposed to familial bonds), that’s another struggle for change in the future. At present, for queer people, reforming Social Security to make it less social and more singular means a more equitable and secure future.