Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Updating You on My Own Spot: Here's Some of What Has Happened in Steve's and My Life As a Result of the Obergefell Ruling

In the Religion Dispatches interview with Sara Moslener to which my last posting links, Moslener states, "I’m a big believer that most academics are really writing their own stories. The more authentic we are with those stories, the more people connect to the histories we are trying to uncover."

I am, too. I'm a big believer, as well, in the obligation of academics to speak from their own spot. This is one of many reasons I seriously doubt the claims of centrist commentators who pretend to occupy some objective "middle" place set apart from the fray, where they are safeguarded from the necessity to take sides and to make critical choices for or against this side or the other. Where they themselves pretend to have no interests or commitments . . . .

No such spot exists in the real world. That centrist pretension is all about safeguarding one's own power (i.e., one's hidden, cozy connections to the powerful) and refusing to ally oneself with people struggling for rights and dignity.

This is a disreputable spot for any Catholic to stand, though it's where many of the leading lights of the American Catholic academy and journalistic elite continue to stand in relation to LGBT human beings.

Here's the real spot (well, part of it, at least) on which Steve and I have been standing since last Friday's Supreme Court ruling. As I've told you in the past, shortly after we and other same-sex couples married in May 2014, the state university system, for which my husband works, announced that it would accept applications from its employees who had just married a spouse of the same sex to cover their spouse under the state university healthcare plan — something to which all other married employees of the state university system have always had access.

Then our state Supreme Court slapped a stay on the marriages and that offer from the state university system was yanked off the table. For a full year, the state Supreme Court did . . . nothing . . . to address the stay. Nothing other than talk. But since Supreme talk is privileged talk, no ordinary citizen had any idea what the talk was about.

What we knew, simply, was that the state Supremes refused to address the issue in any substantive or public way, certainly not with a ruling that either explained why the stay had to be kept in place or removed. The stay stayed. 

Very quietly last Friday, after the national Supremes had issued the Obergefell ruling, the Arkansas Supremes issued a statement that, in effect, mumbled, "Never mind; we don't need to say anything now, since the U.S. Supreme Court has made anything we might have said moot." As the editor of the Arkansas Times newspaper, Max Brantley, whose wife is a judge (not on the Supreme Court), revealed two days ago, citing insider sources, there was all kinds of malicious behind-the-scenes political wrangling as the state Supremes first voted to uphold the judicial decision knocking down the ban on marriage equality, and then — after the GOP sweep in the 2014 elections changed the make-up of the court — voted against the initial decision, with the same justice writing the majority opinions in both (unissued) rulings!

If you are tempted to conclude that this is an exceptionally ugly story that casts the state of Arkansas, its judiciary, and its governmental structures in the worst light possible, and that an educated and creative person should think twice about moving to such a state, then you'd be correct. I grew up in a lawyer's household in south Arkansas as the Civil Rights movement of the '50s and '60s unfolded, and, very early in my life, any illusions I had that judges are above politics and above being swayed by this interest group or that one were decisively dispelled.

The unconscionable, immoral, unprofessional behavior of the Arkansas Supreme Court in refusing to issue any ruling for over a year after a judge first knocked down the ban on same-sex marriage in this state, and after same-sex couples had married when that ban was knocked down: it absolutely does put me in mind of the craven, cringeworthy behavior of many Arkansas justices and leaders during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. 

We have learned nothing, it appears, from our history. Or, to quote a neighbor of ours who once sat on the state Supreme Court and with whom Steve and I had a nice chat Saturday morning as we walked the dogs, "The best word to describe the current Arkansas Supreme Court and its behavior is disgusting." (I think in a comment or two here, I have cited him to say "disgraceful," but "disgusting" was his word.)

Meanwhile, as Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen of Pulaski County noted in his 9 June 2015 ruling instructing the state of Arkansas to recognize the legality of the marriages that had taken place in May 2014 (some of which, including Steve's and my marriage, he had solemnized), real people were being affected in really malicious ways by this unethical and unprofessional behavior of the state Supremes. When I posted about Judge Griffen's ruling on 10 June, I pointed to some of the instances he cited: a man who married in May 2014, whose husband then died in November, and who was blocked by the state from receiving his deceased husband's Social Security benefits; the blocking by the state of all couples who married in May 2014 from filing joint tax returns at the state level; and the blocking of legally married spouses' access to health insurance coverage when one spouse works for the state.

Both of the latter affect Steve and me directly. We could not file a joint tax return at the state level this year, even though we have legal proof that we married in May 2014. Nor could Steve carry me as his husband on his healthcare plan as a state employee — a problem that became increasingly serious for us after I turned 65 at the end of March and began Medicare coverage.

For at least part of 2014, I had, as I have told you here before, coverage under the Affordable Care Act which gave me much-needed healthcare coverage for the first time in a number of years. This included, for a tiny part of a single year, dental coverage, which the Arkansas iteration of ACA then cancelled in 2015.

The blocking of my access to healthcare coverage as Steve's husband has made it impossible for me to make Medicare choices which have to be made by today (as in today June 30th) when the window designated for me to make those choices shuts down. As I reached the point of signing up for Medicare in March, Steve and I met with a helpful human resources officer at his workplace and discussed the various options in front of us — as well as the "what if" option that might be available if either the state or national Supremes should choose to act in the matter of marriage equality before 1 July and I then had access to coverage under Steve's plan.

It was clear to us as we discussed the options that a Medicare plan combining secondary Medicare coverage with primary spousal coverage under Steve's plan was far and away the best plan for us in terms of cost and coverage. I particularly need a robust dental component (which Steve's coverage has), because I've been deferring dental work that dentists have told me I've needed for some time now, given my lack of coverage except in a tiny part of 2014 (and, even then, finding any local dentist who would treat me with my ACA plan was a nightmare).

After Judge Griffen issued his ruling on 9 June, a number of employees of the state university system with same-sex spouses who married in May 2014 went to their respective H-R offices and asked for access to healthcare coverage for their spouse. We know this was happening because Steve was among these and was told by his own H-R office that similar requests were now being made throughout the state university system.

But all of these folks were also told that the state system was only "accepting" filings, and could not "process" those filings, since legal counsel had told the state university H-R departments that it was unclear whether Judge Griffen's ruling applied to all of those who were married in May 2014 or only to the handful of litigants in the case. (Judge Griffen's ruling was, it goes without saying, abundantly clear.)

At this point, Steve's employer "accepted" his request to cover me as his spouse.

Then, of course, nothing at all happened until 26 June. At which point Steve and others in the same situation around the state went to their respective H-R offices and were told, we understand, that the "unclarity" and "confusion" remained even with the Supreme Court ruling. People were being told this as late as last Friday afternoon, though both the governor and attorney general of Arkansas had announced soon after Obergefell that the state would comply with the Supreme Court ruling and that state institutions would immediately begin providing access to healthcare coverage for same-sex spouses of state employees.

At the very end of the workday on Friday, a memo went out announcing that same-sex spouses of state university employees will now have access to health insurance coverage. Max Brantley published a copy of this memo on Monday. As of yesterday morning when Steve met with his H-R office to follow through again on his request to carry me as his spouse for healthcare coverage, he was informed that I will be officially covered starting 1 July.

Which means that today, 30th June, I have to figure out how to negotiate the nightmare bureaucracy that is the Medicare system, cancel a portion of the plan I chose when we did not know if I'd have access to spousal benefits through Steve's plan, and then try to get the new plan set into place before the end of the day, when the window of opportunity for me to make these changes will shut.

And that means I need to get offline and get onto the telephone and/or government websites and see what can be done. Prayers to whatever santos or gods and goddesses cover the nightmare of government bureaucratic systems will be much appreciated.

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