By Steve Strode, PQ Monthly
(Originally published in PQ Monthly, July 2015)
My last few articles were happy and lifestyle-oriented. This one is more nuts and bolts. But please stay with me.
Not everyone will get married. And for those who have no intention of it—both straight and queer—the winding road to achieve marriage equality may have become dusty and tired. But there are short-term and long-term economic benefits for our communities.
In true Realtor fashion, I offer the following disclosures:
Disclaimer Number One: I cannot give financial advice. Please consult with a financial adviser for anything financial-related you are about to read (preferably a PQ advertiser, which enables the paper to exist).
Disclaimer Number Two: I cannot give legal advice. Please consult your attorney for anything legal-related you are about to read (and yep, preferably a PQ advertiser which enables you to get print and online LGBT news for free!).
As I was reading the various news about the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, it hit home how interconnected the issues of marriage equality and lifelong economic well-being are. Home ownership is the single largest way wealth is created in this country. Every three years the Federal Reserve conducts a Survey of Consumer Finances. So consider this: in February, their findings revealed that the average homeowner has a net worth of $194,500, while the average net worth of a renter is $5,400; that’s a 36-times difference.
So how does marriage equality help? While not necessarily in the buying process in places like Oregon and Washington, it helps in other ways, such as the sexy areas of death and taxes. For example, it will benefit same-sex married couples with their estate planning; they can now transfer unlimited wealth from one spouse to another upon death without that immediate tax bill.
It’ll also help in our retirement years. PBS News Hour just published a report entitled “Hurray if you’re gay! Time to get what’s yours from Social Security.” Same-sex married spouses can now collect spousal, widow(er), child-in-care spousal, and mother or father benefits. It’s the additional peace of mind that has been afforded mixed-gendered married couples for generations. Here again, additional financial security may mean the ability to remain in one’s home and not become a burden on others.
On taxes, well, that’s another story. The number of returns needed for same-sex married couples is simplified. Beyond that is way outside my realm; from what I understand some folks win, some lose. Get professional help.
On the heels of marriage equality, there is much work to be done—like, RuPaul-sized heels. There are both attitudinal and legal barriers that the LGBT community must overcome for full equality. In Oregon and Washington, we live in our bubbles of protection. Are there violations? Of course—but we have recourse and the law on our side. By contrast in most states, employers can fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Landlords can evict us. In a study by the Center for American Progress, 10 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers, and 26% of transgender workers were fired in the past five years.
Job loss equals economic setback. Does it delay the ability to buy a home, or jeopardize our ability to stay in the one we have? Absolutely. Remember that equation of 36-times greater wealth among homeowners? Every setback makes that more and more unlikely for members of our community.
Fortunately for us, many small and large businesses, along with professional organizations, are more progressive than state laws. Protections are written in to company policy or labor contracts, or in the by-laws of the organization. It’s true in my profession. A real estate agent who is a Realtor is bound by a code of ethics. We cannot deny equal services on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Yes, I’m proud of that. But many landlords and sales agents aren’t part of my trade association; and in the majority of states that do not prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT folks may be simply be out of luck.
That probably translates to the high rate of fear among the LGBT community about housing. In June’s RealtorMag, it was published that nearly 3/4 of us nationwide are significantly concerned about housing discrimination—either in renting or home buying. Here again, we’re fortunate. Both Oregon and Washington have fair housing councils and laws that protect us on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
We are again at a new crossroads, and reminded how lucky we are to be on the Left Coast. Elsewhere, same sex couples can get married—then offered no protection against housing or job discrimination. They can get married, then fired for the act of doing so. Admittedly not a positive way to end this, but I’ve been called a Pollyanna more than once, and this is no time for complacency. Love Wins, but Law Rules.
Steve Strode is a broker with RE/MAX equity group in Portland. In his free time he trail runs excessively, then posts sweaty selfies on Facebook with his running buds. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.