Same-sex couples earn less than heterosexuals

Researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA found a large income gap between same-sex couples and married heterosexuals - even more pronounced among non-white gays and lesbians, who make up 20% of same-sex parents.

In the summer of 2004 Della Nagle and Ruth Pinkham dropped their kids off at summer camp, hopped on a flight from San Antonio, Texas, to Niagara Falls, Canada, got married, and quickly flew back home.

Nagle, 46, and Pinkham, 52, have been in a committed lesbian relationship for 22 years. Both are public school teachers, each with 20 years of experience. They have eight children. The four youngest still live with them in their six-bedroom San Antonio house.

The state of Texas will not recognize their wedding. They cannot register as domestic partners, and are not protected by anti-discrimination legislation.

“We often think about leaving the state,” said Nagle, who was born in Corpus Christi and has lived in San Antonio for 18 years. “But I don’t know anywhere else where we could afford to live like we do on our incomes.”

Nagle and Pinkham each earn $50,000 annually. And statistically, they’re living well. In Texas, same-sex households with children take in, on average, only $53,000 a year, compared with the $67,500 average household income for a heterosexual family with children.

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Rhonda Stubbs holds her 3-year-old daughter Chrystrell, and lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn, N.Y., with her civil union partner Michelle Minthe and their daughters Lamel, 9, and Shabrina, 12. (Photo by Zachary Goelman)

Using data culled from the 2005 census, the Williams Institute at UCLA has been drawing up state-by-state statistics on gay and lesbian couples and found that across the country same-sex couples raising children earn less than their heterosexual counterparts.

The numbers surprised some in the gay and lesbian community.

“That’s shocking,” said Anne Stockwell, editor-in-chief of the Advocate, a 40-year-old gay and lesbian periodical published in Los Angeles. The UCLA report shows that individual gay men in same-sex relationships earn, on average, almost $7,000 less than married men.

“It’s long-held conventional wisdom that gay men earn more,” Stockwell said, because of media portrayal of gays and lesbians as metropolitan and well off.

“For the researchers, these results were not surprising,” said Adam Romero, a Public Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute who worked on the study.

“Studies across time show that gay men still earn less than married men,” he said. “The data on Texas is representative across the United States.”

The income gap increases when children enter the picture. The average income, across the United States, for same-sex couples with children is $59,300, compared with almost $75,000 for married parents. As of 2005 same-sex parents or guardians were raising an estimated 270,313 children in the U.S. But gay and lesbian-rights advocates quickly point out that such families lack more than simple wages.

Married workers often get health insurance benefits and aren’t taxed on the value of that insurance. But in states without gay marriage or civil unions, like Texas, workers with an unmarried domestic partner aren’t typically covered, and so, the partner’s coverage is taxable.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have families that are not protected by the safety net,” said Roberta Sklar, director of communications with the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce.

Sklar noted that in most states, Social Security isn’t transferable between unmarried partners. Maine, Washington, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, California, New Hampshire, Hawaii and the District of Columbia have some measure of same-sex union. Only Massachusetts has same-sex marriage.

The remaining 39 states offer no same-sex arrangements, although some municipalities, like New York City, recognize civil unions registered in other places. Civil unions confer the same rights as marriage, but other states aren’t required to recognize them.

Rhonda Stubbs and Michelle Minthe lied and said they were sisters when they signed a lease with their landlord for a fourth-floor walk-up in the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood of Bushwick, in Brooklyn, N.Y. They’d previously tried to be open about their sexuality and were told they were unwanted in an apartment in the Bronx.

Stubbs, 30, has two biological children aged 16 and 12, and together with Minthe has adopted two more, ages 9 and 3. Both women are unemployed cooks, on welfare.

Stubbs says they have trouble finding work. As cooks, employers often want them to work late hours.

“They ask if I’m married,” Stubbs said. “I say yes. Then they ask if my husband can take care of the kids some nights so I can work, and I say I don’t have a husband, I have a wife,” she said. Stubbs added that she usually doesn’t get called back.

Stubbs says she’s lucky to have family and neighbors who help take care of the kids and the house. Across the United States, same-sex couples find the support of community in the absence of legal protection.

Mark and Andy Sutherland-Trevino, who legally merged their last names, raise seven adopted children in San Antonio. Andy Sutherland-Trevino gave up a fast-food management position for a part-time job as a special needs assistant, where he takes in only $15,000 a year, to spend more time at home with the children.

His partner is the primary breadwinner, making $37,000 annually as a clerk for the public school board. Together they earn just below the national average household wage for gay parents.

Despite their untypical living arrangements, it’s the traditional reliance on family that helps them get by.

“Mark’s parents live next door,” Andy said. “So we have grandma and grandpa to help with the kids.”