The Ethicist Tells Lesbian Couple It’s Perfectly Okay To Exploit Government’s Definition of ‘Single’

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, and Maine voters’ refusal to legalize same-sex marriage, a lesbian couple finds itself able to qualify for some government aid by applying as “single,” even though the two women are certainly not single, and together would make more money than the poverty line cutoff for such benefits. Is it kosher to exploit the government’s own purposeful discrimination?

Absofrickinlutely, says Times ethicist Randy Cohen. But not because the government discriminates. Rather, you qualify under existing regulations, so go ahead and heed the benefit: “There’s no ethical obstacle to her doing so. As you realize to your dismay, in this context “single” is a technical term with a precise meaning defined by law. Your partner’s duty is to meet the criteria for aid and fill out those applications honestly. If, for the purposes of, for example, health-insurance subsidies, the agency administering the program regards her as single, she has every right — ethical and legal — to apply as such. This decision has nothing to do with the government’s compensating her for rough treatment or being evenhanded or mitigating any injustice marriage law imposes on you both. Nor could you argue that because federal marriage law discriminates against same-sex couples, denying them equal treatment, you have an ethical right to balance the scales by cutting the line at the post office or punching a homophobe in the snoot, however appealing those actions might seem. But you have no duty to set stricter standards for such programs than the law itself. Similarly, although I favor a more progressive income tax, one that might compel a nice fellow like me to write a bigger check, I am not morally obliged to send the I.R.S. more money than current law prescribes.”

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  • justiceontherocks

    If Congress doesn’t want gay couples in a committed relationship to get single people benefits, they know what they can do about it.

  • the crustybastard



  • damon459

    if you one of those members of the LGBT community who isn’t wealthy there are many loopholes to take advantage of. I’m on disability and because I can’t marry the man I love I’m able to take more benefits from the government do I feel guilty about it? Not one damn bit. I know when I worked at long term care facilities the administrative staff would advise new patients to file for divorce so that the spouse who was needing long term care wouldn’t dry up their savings. These idea’s are nothing new to those in the know. So if straights can take advantage of the loop whole holes why can’t we?

  • prizepatrol

    My late partners and I did this for years. My attitude is the laws discriminate, so fuck the system. I was a draft/pacifist protester during the Vietnam War too and used the military’s own discriminatory policies to avoid the draft and not have to go to Canada. So, I guess this is all okay according to this ethicist. Now I can sleep. ;-)

  • Kurt

    The dirty little secret is that for most gay people, marriage is not a good economic move. That why after all is said and done, very few gays get married when the option is available to them.

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