Beyond Marriage Equality: the Challengers Facing the LGBT Elderly Community

October 29, 2014
Many workers look forward to the day they can retire and spend their days relaxing rather than working for the remainder of their lives. Unfortunately, many LGBT people do not have this luxury. Due to a lifetime of discrimination, older LGBT people face a variety of challenges at much higher rates than their straight peers. A recent report by Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE), Out & Visible: The Experiences and Attitudes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender Older Adults, Ages 45-75, highlights the many difficulties older LGBT people face. 51% of older LGBT individuals reported being concerned about having enough money to get by on after retirement, compared to 36% of non-LGBT people. In addition, 13% of LGBT adults, including 25% of transgender adults, cited experiencing housing discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, in an experiment by the Equal Rights Center 48% of the individuals with a same-sex spouse in the experiment experienced at least one type of adverse treatment compared to their heterosexual counterparts when looking for housing. These statistics reflect the lifetime of discrimination that older LGBT adults experience, from bullying and harassment to employment discrimination. LGBT elder couples also face higher poverty rates and significant physical and mental health compared to their heterosexual peers. Marriage discrimination can exacerbate poverty disparities by denying same-sex couples’ social security benefits that they would have been eligible for if they were in a straight relationship. When Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor in 2013, some same-sex couples were finally eligible to receive social security benefits. Unfortunately, same-sex couples are only able to receive payments retroactive to the date of their application as opposed to when they got married, meaning a couple who got married a decade ago ultimately lost out on a decade of social security benefits. In addition, the Social Security Administration recognizes marriages based on the state in which the wage earner resides (place of domicile) as opposed to where they were married. Consequently, a same-sex couple that was legally married in a state that recognizes marriage equality but resides in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages would not be eligible for social security benefits that are available to their heterosexual counterparts. Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of caring for the elderly. Leviticus 19:32 states that “you shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.” In addition, Psalms 71:9 instructs “do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me.” As Jews, we should therefore be especially concerned about the additional obstacles older LGBT adults, face since we are all created b’tzelelm Elohim, in God’s image. While it is important to implement solutions that can decrease these disparities in the short run, it is also important to address these issues by fighting their root causes. Employment discrimination is most likely a significant factor in the financial disparities between older LGBT and straight Americans. By passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Congress would ensure that future generations of Americans can find jobs and work without fear of being denied a job or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Take action now to take workplace discrimination. By ensuring equal employment opportunities for LGBT individuals today, we can ensure that the next generation of LGBT elders have the same economic resources as their straight counterparts to live their lives comfortably.

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