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Republicans argue same-sex marriage would cost govt. billions

Republicans argue same-sex marriage would cost govt. billions

Testifying Thursday at a U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which is backed by President Bush, Republican lawmakers argued that allowing same-sex couples to legally marry would be bad because it could cost the federal government a lot of money. Rep. Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican, cited past government studies that found that giving gay and lesbian couples the same benefits as married straight couples could cost the Treasury billions of dollars, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. But Democrats denounced the comments, arguing that gay and lesbian couples also pay federal taxes and deserve the same legal protections and federal benefits as other couples. "You don't save money by denying people rights in America," said Rep. Barney Frank, the openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts. According to the Chronicle, Bachus cited a recent General Accounting Office report that detailed 1,138 federal laws in which marital status is a factor in receiving benefits, rights, or privileges. The laws affect everything from a spouse's ability to collect Social Security, disability, and veterans' benefits to legal rights to file joint tax returns, apply for joint homeowners' insurance, or claim family leave to care for a sick partner. Bachus ticked off some of the federal programs that could be affected if gay and lesbian couples had full marriage rights: "Social Security, food stamps, disability payments, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid." Then he asked the panel of witnesses: "Won't this just break the bank?" Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), the chief House sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, said she had not seen a full accounting of the costs of offering the benefits to gays and lesbians. But she argued that "activist judges" should not be allowed to impose decisions that could impact the finances of state and federal governments. Bachus also cited a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate of a bill proposed by Frank to offer domestic-partner benefits to federal employees. The CBO predicted that providing health care and retirement benefits to the partners of current and former federal workers would cost an estimated $1.4 billion between 2004 and 2013. After the hearing, Frank acknowledged that extending spousal benefits could mean some new costs for the government. But he said same-sex couples in committed relationships deserve the same benefits the government offers to heterosexual couples. "Yes, denying some people their rights is cheaper than recognizing them," Frank told the Chronicle. "[But] in the experience we've had with domestic-partner benefits virtually everywhere--with universities, with municipalities, with the leading corporate operations in America--no one has ever withdrawn them because they cost too much." Other Democrats said cost should not be an issue in the debate over same-sex marriage. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which paved the way for school desegregation 50 years ago, increased costs for some school districts. Scott said Congress should not be doing "a cost-benefit analysis of civil rights law." Proponents of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage recently changed the language of the amendment to make clear that states can approve civil unions. But opponents of a ban point out that Vermont-style civil unions guarantee couples only the rights and benefits granted by the states, not the rights or benefits granted to married couples under federal law. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) cited the case of a lesbian couple in Vermont who had been joined in a civil union and had a child together. When one of the parents died in a car accident last year, her partner applied for Social Security survivor benefits for the child. Even though she was the child's legal parent under Vermont law, the Social Security Administration denied the request. "There are so many examples like that," Baldwin said.

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