News & Politics

Elizabeth Warren Demands Reparations for Same-Sex Couples

Elizabeth Warren Demands Reparations for Same-Sex Couples
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

True to form on the intersectionality front, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, introduced a bill to extend the idea of reparations to LGBT people. While far more limited in scope than frequent calls for slavery reparations to black Americans, the proposal blames the U.S. government for withholding benefits same-sex couples allegedly should have received before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

On Friday, Warren re-introduced S. 1940, the Refund Equality Act, which would allow same-sex couples to amend past tax returns. According to a report from the Joint Committee on Taxation, the bill would direct $57 million in refunds. The funds would go to same-sex couples in states that had legalized same-sex marriage before the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Warren introduced an earlier version of the bill in 2017.

“The federal government forced legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts to file as individuals and pay more in taxes for almost a decade,” Warren said in a statement on the legislation. “We need to call out that discrimination and to make it right — Congress should pass the Refund Equality Act immediately.”

“It wasn’t until marriage equality became law that gay & lesbian couples could jointly file tax returns—so they paid more in taxes,” Warren tweeted Saturday. “Our government owes them more than $50M for the years our discriminatory tax code left them out. We must right these wrongs.”

Such claims echo the argument for slavery reparations. According to that argument, the government allowed and fostered the horrific practice of race-based slavery, which stripped black people of their right to the fruits of their own labor. While slavery was abolished, the government did not return the property unjustly stolen from African American people. The wealth inequalities among black and white Americans are a result of this horrific injustice, so the argument goes. Therefore, the government must pay their descendants the debt it owes them.

Reparations are unworkable for many reasons, partially because the slaves and their masters are no longer alive. Economic history is messy, and it is far from clear that modern poverty and wealth derive from the injustices of slavery.

Warren’s bill for same-sex marriage reparations is far more straightforward and is limited to couples in states that had legalized same-sex marriage before the federal government did. Even so, it relies on the claim that the federal government’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman was wrong before 2015. If so, why not extend the reparations back even further?

This bill champions a new grievance. It is not enough that same-sex couples now have the right to marry under federal law. No, they must be retroactively given the right to file taxes according to that theory. If this law passes, what will they demand next? Already, activists and politicians seek to punish Christian artists who refuse to celebrate same-sex marriage or transgender identity. Will the next reparations push demand that these alleged bigots pay LGBT people to balance the cosmic scales of justice?

By the way, Warren’s push for same-sex marriage reparations enjoys broad support among Democrats in the Senate and those running for president. The legislation is cosponsored by 42 senators, including six presidential candidates: Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

These reparations may become a kind of litmus test for 2020 Democrats, just like reparations for slavery seem to be (despite their unpopularity with voters). Never mind the fact that Barack Obama opposed reparations, saying “the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed.”

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.