by STEVEN W. THRASHER
The negotiating committee is asking the Village Voice to “gross up” and pay the discriminatory tax burdens same-sex couples face. This was my personal plea to management’s lawyer, Bert Pogrebin.
I had the honor of being in the Capitol building last week when the Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act. It was a highlight of both my life and of my career, and it was an opportunity for which I was very grateful. I was very proud to have written for the Voice on this topic. I’m particularly grateful to Tony Ortega for the space and support he’s given to this issue. I don’t think I was ever more proud to work for this paper than when he defended me to Ruben Diaz, Sr. on one occasion.
But as I was coming back on the bus from Albany, something you said, Mr. Pogrebin, stuck in my mind. We had brought this proposal up, about paying the tax differential same-sex couples face, and you said, basically, it was “Too bad, so sad” for gay employees who are taxed differently by the government than their heterosexual counterparts are. You did not seem sympathetic, and you did not seem to care that it was something that the company could help with.
You also kind of implied that if gay marriage passed, it would take care of this. I’d like to expand upon this a little, and to dispel some myths. New York marriage equality does nothing to address any federal issue because of the Defense of Marriage Act, and I don’t accept that this isn’t something Village Voice Media could do something about.
The Voice has a proud history of taking stands on issues. I don’t think the Voice would stand for a situation where my co-worker Sean would have to pay more for taxes because he was black than another employee of the company, and I don’t think this is something that the Voice should stand for here. The Voice took a proud stand on immigration in a national, award winning editorial effort, and the Voice has a very strong history on same sex civil rights.
The Voice was the first private employer in the entire nation to offer domestic partner benefits. And I think the Voice really needs to carry on this tradition. At this moment, as New York has passed this historic bill, I think the Voice should proudly take part in a program where it offsets the tax differences same-sex couples face. As the Human Rights Campaign points out, in a much more expensive plan, that would be a difference of about $1,500 dollars a year. It would be much less than that for any of the plans we’ve been discussing.
But that’s a cost that the Village Voice and Village Voice Media could conceivably cover for their employees. It’s not a cost that individuals could or should have to cover. And this is a cost less than any one of the enormous brand new flat screen televisions you’ve recently bought for this building. It’s not something that I could conceivably pay for, but it’s something that the Voice could do to do right by their employees.
And I was really appalled when you implied that it would be unfair for the Voice to bear this cost because it’s an injustice individuals should handle themselves. I’d like to give you a little insight into what it is to be a gay American without civil rights in this country. The New York Marriage Equality Act does nothing for someone like me. I had a partner of three years that I just put on a plane back to his home country on Monday, forever. We can never even be together or get married now that his visa is up. New York Marriage Equality does nothing for federal immigration issues, or federal taxes, which will still impose an unfair financial burden that we are addressing in our proposal.
The Voice cannot do anything about the broken heart that I am feeling right now. But “grossing up” on taxes, that is something that the Voice can do. You could stand up behind your gay and lesbian employees on this issue, and say that that, “We’re going to help you with this unfair discrimination you are facing and we will stand with you.” Indeed, as the New York Times pointed out, many employers are already voluntarily doing this.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a position where you’ve been subject to discrimination, but in these situations you look to places for hope. And our readers have looked to the Village Voice for hope. I look to you, my employer, to the Voice for hope in this situation, and I think you should stand up and do the right thing. It is something practical that you can do that completely fits into the mission and the history of this paper.