The Impact of Minnesota’s Discriminatory Laws Only Is Amplified During Economic Uncertainty

By Lavender March 13, 2008

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Just about every Minnesota family is feeling the uncertainty of today’s economy. Unemployment rose throughout the state late last year, and home foreclosures in the Twin Cities are at an all-time high. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Minnesota’s 12-month job growth was the third worst in the country in December.

For about one out of five Minnesota households, a sluggish economy just adds to the financial uncertainty they face every day. In an economic downturn, plans for savings and financial stability take on a whole new meaning for the nearly 20 percent of Minnesota households that are led by same-sex couples.

Shannon’s household is one of them. She was pregnant with twins, and fell so ill that she no longer could work. She was unable to qualify for benefits on her partner’s insurance plan, so Shannon was forced to enroll in Medical Assistance for the remainder of her pregnancy.

After the twins were born, and her health returned, the couple more closely examined the domestic partner benefits available through the partner’s employer. Benefits were available to Shannon and to the children, but the costs were extremely high. In addition, the employee health contributions for them—including the employer’s contribution—would have been taxed, further increasing the costs of insurance. In the end, the couple could not afford to insure Shannon with the rest of the family.

In a family headed by a heterosexual couple, however, health coverage often can be obtained through the employer of the other spouse without higher costs and larger tax burdens.

Consider some of the other perils of the 515 Minnesota laws that discriminate against same-sex families.

Many heterosexual couples have legal rights that grant them leaves from their jobs to tend to family emergencies. Not so with same-sex couples. Every request for leave has to be weighed against job security in a fragile economy.

Stretching family budgets also is a challenge for many same-sex couples. Car insurance policies frequently offer family discounts for a recognized spouse or dependent. Yet Minnesota law does not provide a same-sex partner the same right to be included in a joint policy.

Same-sex families must go to great lengths and added cost to ensure that their investments, property titles, 401k retirement accounts, and other assets will become the property of their partners upon their passing—something marriage automatically affords. Still, contracts and other legal documents do not fully protect same-sex families.

Even opening a simple savings account can be a challenge for same-sex families.

Lisa, Susan, and their daughter, Paige, chose to bank with Susan’s employee credit union. The couple brought their daughter with them to open her own account. However, they were told they could not open a joint account because they were not married. They also could not open an account for Paige because Lisa—not Susan—was Paige’s legal parent.

Susan’s employer had a strong nondiscrimination policy, and about 20 percent of its employees were not heterosexual. Yet banking policies were set by the credit union board of directors, rather than the employer. In Minnesota, the spouse and dependents of a regularly qualified credit union member may become members. However, same-sex partners are not guaranteed membership under the law.

The reality is that Minnesota law denies same-sex families more than 515 legal rights and protections currently enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. The impact of these laws is felt every day by thousands of Minnesota families. But in difficult financial times, it only is amplified.

Project 515 has outlined these statutes in its report Unequal Under the Law: 515 Ways Minnesota Laws Discriminate Against Couples and Families. To learn more, or to share your story about the impact of state laws, visit www.project515.org.

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