Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Keith Rankin: Civil Unions And Discrimination

Civil Unions And Discrimination

by Keith Rankin

One of the most important (yet least discussed) reasons why we need to have ''civil unions'' for same-sex couples is the need for such couples to be treated the same as married couples by government welfare agencies.

Marriage remains the last bastion of legal discrimination. You can no longer discriminate against people on grounds of gender, religion or ethnicity. But you can discriminate between people who are in a relationship "in the nature of marriage" and those who are not.

Civil Unions are relationships bound in law that, while not marriage, are in the nature of marriage. Further a legal civil union creates the concept of a de facto civil union. Given that de facto marriages are now deemed to be equivalent to marriages for welfare and many other purposes, so too will civil unions and de facto civil unions.

Soon, the only form of legal discrimination will be between people with "partners" and people without. Most (but not all) of the discrimination of this form works to the financial disadvantage of partnered people, and to the financial advantage of the state. How does this discrimination work?

The principal form of positive discrimination relates to "non-qualifying spouses" of New Zealand Superannuitants. That is, to partners under 65 of persons who are aged over 65. Such partners are able to receive a reduced pension.

Generally, however, the income support system in New Zealand works to the disadvantage of married people. I will consider just two of many possible examples.

Imagine a conventional kiwi nuclear family: Mum, Dad, two children. Dad works fulltime. Mum works part-time for $200 per week. Now consider what happens if Dad loses his job and cannot find another.

The family will qualify for a partial unemployment benefit. The family will receive $575 per week from the benefit, from Mum's wages, from the Accommodation Supplement, and from Family Support tax credits.

What will happen if Dad separates from Mum? The now smaller family of three will receive more than before ($577 per week), because the clawback on the unemployment benefit (for married parents) is much greater than the clawback on the domestic purposes benefit (DPB) that is only available to single parents.

Now, let's imagine that Mum forms a new relationship with another single mother. One of Mum's children goes to live with Dad, and the new partner brings in a child of her own. We are back to a family of two adults and two children.

But, in this case, both women are currently treated as single. The disposable income of this household is $885 rather than $575. The only difference is the gender of the partner.

If Mum forms a civil union with her new partner, their income will fall back to $575. Their benefits will be reduced from two DPBs to a married unemployment benefit.

The second example I want to consider relates to couples over 65 where both are living in a rest home. At a rest home, both pay the maximum $636 rate per week for their respective single rooms. Yet they only receive a pension of $191.61 each compared to the $229.93 paid to the unmarried person (or person who had been living with a same-sex partner) in the next room.

Reduced superannuation is not the only way in which the elderly married are discriminated against, compared to elderly single people.

Civil Unions should be seen as a way of achieving equal discrimination against all couples, and therefore should be supported on the grounds of equal unfairness.

The bigger question is whether it is morally defensible to discriminate against people with partners. I don't think it is. Further, there is a simple way out that does not impose significant financial risk to the government.

The core benefit for all could be the benefit (or pension) that is today paid to married people. People would apply to have their benefits topped up according to their individual needs. Certainly an elderly person living alone clearly has needs that would normally justify some supplementary income support.

We could move to a system of universal "rights-based" individual benefits and pensions (treating equals equally) that are set at relatively low levels (eg current "married" levels), combined with "needs-based" supplementary benefits (treating unequals unequally) that take into account all of a person's unique circumstances.

Unemployed couples - and married residents of rest-homes - should not have to separate to avoid negative discrimination.


© 2002 Keith Rankin

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Boris Johnson At Sea: Coronavirus Confusion In The UK

The tide has been turning against UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Oafishly, he has managed to convert that tide into a deluge of dissatisfaction assisted by the gravitational pull of singular incompetence. Much of this is due to such errors of ... More>>

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really

The four countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in the world are all led by rightwing populists: the US, India, Brazil, and Russia. Throw in the United Kingdom, which has the largest infection rate in Europe, and you have a common pattern. ... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Early Voting Is OK, If You Know Who To Vote For

Early voting is now open which is great for the 80% or so of the population whose vote does not change from one election to the next. They can go out and vote at their convenience without having to wait for election day. But for those who are yet even ... More>>

The Conversation: Biodiversity: Where The World Is Making Progress – And Where It’s Not

The future of biodiversity hangs in the balance. World leaders are gathering to review international targets and make new pledges for action to stem wildlife declines. Depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty person, you’re likely ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>

  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog