Best Companies of 2010: The Case For a Raise
September 21 2010 12:00 AM ET
It’s no longer enough for many gay consumers that the businesses they work for (or buy from) have a perfect record in their support of gay employees and customers. Target Corp., for example, has a rating of 100 in the most recent Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, an annual report evaluating how some of the nation’s largest companies treat their LGBT employees. But when news broke this summer that the company had donated $150,000 to a political action committee that supported an antigay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate, Target faced Facebook-organized boycotts and protests nationwide.
News of that Target donation is not only forcing gay activists, like those at HRC, to rethink how they evaluate a company’s gay-friendliness, it’s coming at the same time some other corporations are rethinking what it really means to be pro-gay. A growing number of these companies are coming to the same conclusion as gay people themselves: It’s not enough just to make the grade. So these equality-minded corporations are coming up with new envelope-pushing strategies to support their gay employees and, in turn, make themselves more attractive to gay consumers.
One of the emerging tactics is simple: equal pay for equal work. It’s not exactly a revolutionary concept, yet it is not a reality, even today. Women’s and minority rights advocacy groups have fought against income disparity for decades. But look past the biggest LGBT news headlines of the year and you’ll find that equal pay is becoming a mantra for many gay workers and their employers. Progressive entities from Google to the Gates Foundation aren’t waiting for Congress to remedy the antigay discrimination that may be costing you thousands of dollars a year.
The problem stems from Internal Revenue Service regulations that have long exempted married heterosexual employees from paying federal tax on health care benefits for their spouses and dependents. But because the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships, gay employees are taxed on what’s called “fair market value” of any coverage extended to their partners or spouses. In other words, even if you work for a gay-friendly Fortune 500 company with a 100 rating on the HRC Corporate Equality Index, Uncle Sam is going to take a bigger bite out of your paycheck than your straight coworker’s. And the hit is not insignificant. According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute, a sexual orientation law and policy research center at the University of California, Los Angeles, gay workers who cover their partners’ health benefits pay an average of $1,069 more in income and payroll taxes than employees with opposite-sex spouses. Even same-sex couples living in states such as Wisconsin and Maine, which have some form of legal recognition for committed gay relationships, are liable for additional state taxes. Generally, states with marriage equality exempt married gay couples from additional tax, though some, such as Vermont, have yet to update their tax codes to reflect state law.
A bill to end the unfair federal tax for gay couples was passed by the House earlier this year but failed to make it into the health care reform measure passed by Congress in March (the bill is still being considered, although its fate is anything but clear). Outcry after Capitol Hill tossed aside the tax inequity issue failed to gain much traction among gay activists and watchdog groups in the face of other hot-button gay issues this year, namely the fight over repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the challenge to California’s Proposition 8. “Tax issues are a topic that defies easy explanation and rationale,” explains Bob Witeck, an LGBT marketing consultant and partner in Witeck-Combs Communications.