It’s that old canard again — that gays and lesbians are all uber-wealthy, with money to throw around. The Religious Right has even used this as an argument against extending us equal rights. After all, if we’re so financially independent, we must not need any help. They flippantly say that whatever documents a gay couple needs can easily be drawn up in a lawyer’s office, as if we all have money to write four digit checks to attorneys. The Williams Institute is releasing a study on Monday, which shows quite the opposite:
“I think people are surprised there are any poor gay people,” says M.V. Lee Badgett, professor of economics and research director for The Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law School researches sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. “This ‘myth of gay affluence’ has been around for a long time. It gets in the way of people even imagining that LGBT people can be poor.”
On Monday, the Williams Institute will release a detailed study about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their real economic status. Drawing on recent data from four different sources, the report finds a sexual orientation “poverty gap”: LGBT Americans are more likely to be poor than heterosexuals, with African-Americans and women particularly vulnerable.
The study’s specific conclusions are interesting. Badgett was interviewed by NBC News about some of the findings:
There are lots of people in same-sex couples who are poor, and that is an important takeaway. The gap is clear in the raw data for some of these comparisons. For example, for lesbians, if you just look at the poverty rate for women in same-sex couples (7.6 percent), it’s higher than the poverty rate for women in different-sex couples (5.7 percent). For gay men, it’s a little more complicated a story, and race plays a big part. The economic status of lesbians is quite different and often more vulnerable compared to men. It’s a reminder of just how much of an important role gender still plays in determining people’s economic outcome.
They also find that children living in same-sex couples are a bit more likely to be poor than kids from married heterosexual couples, which the study’s authors attribute to the disparity between white same sex couples and African-American same sex couples:
The burden that seems to happen for African-American same-sex couples and their kids is very troubling. It could very well be because of where they live. A lot of those families live in areas with high poverty rates, in the South in particular. African-American people in same-sex couples earn less than white people in same-sex couples, and they earn less than married different sex couples across the board. Those are the things I think are most likely to explain it.
The issue of kids comes up all the time, and we do worry that it will be seen that same-sex couples aren’t good parents, aren’t fit parents, or that African-American same-sex couples aren’t good parents or fit parents. The economic situations that people find themselves in don’t reflect their fitness at being parents. It just reflects how hard it is for them to raise their kids and shows there’s a need for support, including the right to marry and to strengthen their family’s economic situation or to make it more secure by being able to tap into all the benefits that come with marriage.
We will not be surprised when the Religious Right latches on to this study in some way, and tries to say that people are poorer because they’re gay, and therefore we shouldn’t have kids, etc. They will completely ignore the conclusion presented, that these disparities are all the more reason for gays and lesbians to receive full marriage rights. Indeed, these are Badgett’s conclusions:
The findings also suggest that there are other kinds of things to prevent poverty that need to be addressed. For instance, we don’t have any protection against discrimination against LGBT people at the federal level. Only 21 states outlaw discrimination for sexual orientation and 16 states for gender identity. People who lose jobs because of discrimination are very likely to run into problems with poverty. If they don’t have incomes, they will be a whole lot poorer. So, nondiscrimination laws are very important.
Also, marriage is designed to give people a framework for living their economic lives together as well as their family lives, and when people in same-sex couples don’t have access to that framework, then they are automatically deprived of certain kinds of economic supports. Not having the right to marry makes people more economically vulnerable as well.
So much for that myth that we’re all just swimming in ca$h.