But this item first . . .

MUTUAL FUNDS TIPS

From the estimable Less Antman: ‘There is now an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) that follows an index of TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) and has only a 0.20% annual expense ratio. It has obtained the clever ticker symbol TIP. Thus we now have a reasonable facsimile of your book‘s millionaire maintenance plan using ETFs that bear rock-bottom expenses:

1/3 TIP – Barclay I-shares TIPS Index – 0.20% expense ratio
1/3 VTI – Vanguard Total Stock Market Index – 0.15% expense ratio
1/3 EFA – Morgan Stanley Europe Asia & Far East Index – 0.35% expense ratio

‘With mutual fund managers continuing to embarrass the industry (though none of the ones in your book), and stock commissions comparable to cups of coffee at Starbucks, I wonder if we have reached the point where passively-managed ETFs have moved from potential to reality as the perfect tool for the lazy investor.’

☞ The only thing I don’t like about them is that they are so easy and cheap to trade. Index funds held at mutual fund companies just sit there. ETFs held at a deep discount broker, that can be traded with a couple of mouse clicks and an $11 commission, may lead to a life of gambling and depravity. Heck, just look at me!

MARRIAGE

There’s a lot here, so before I post some of your thoughts from last month, let me post Al Hunt’s column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, and, following that, the text of an ad that the South Carolina equality group is running. Please promise me you’ll buy a copy of the Journal at the newsstand for $1 today so I don’t feel guilty running this here. (Better still, sign up for an online subscription, for which no trees need die.)

By ALBERT R. HUNT
Wall Street Journal
December 18, 2003

“Public Ambivalence on Gay Unions”

I am a convert to accepting gay marriages. But as a political issue it’s a time bomb for both sides.

This is evident in this week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News national survey. Americans are evenly split on the question of civil unions, or granting spousal benefits to gay and lesbian partners; but solidly against gay marriages. Only marginally, however, does the public support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.

There is evidence to suggest that both the intensity of feeling and the demographics of the electorate favor the pro-gay side on this explosive issue; demagoguing against it could backfire. But it’s clear that an increasingly tolerant public wants to move cautiously.

Bob Teeter, who conducts the poll with Peter Hart, believes gay unions is “becoming the number-one social issue in the country” with “fascinating” cross-currents: “The country and young people especially are becoming much more tolerant of gays. However much of the country also is religious and considers marriage a sacrament. . . . My instinct is the public will stay divided for awhile.”

I used to be a skeptical agnostic on gay marriage, not outrightly opposed yet uncomfortable. But times are changing. When I asked my seventeen-year-old son if he supported gay marriage he shrugged and replied, “Sure. What’s the big deal?”

The WSJ/NBC News poll shows that younger voters — 18 to 34-year-olds — by an overwhelming 68% support civil unions, and a majority even supports gay marriages. As was also true during the drive for civil rights a generation or two ago, younger Americans are not encumbered with many of the hang-ups and prejudices of their elders; the tide is with change.

Another is the transparent phoniness of much of the anti-gay case: It will destroy the institution, ignores the centrality of procreation to marriage and will afflict a moral depravity on children.

Destroy marriage? How about the 50% divorce rate, more than double what it was in 1960, or the one-third of children born to single mothers, more than triple the number in 1960? If the social right really is concerned with marriage, how about some serious efforts, and resources, to address these far more fundamental threats?

Was procreation the purpose of all wedding vows? I wouldn’t trade my three kids — most days — for anything; yet other couples are different, some intentionally, some without choice. We have a number of childless married friends, including a few prominent conservatives. They chose not to procreate or to adopt. Should this carry a penalty? Annul their vows, or get slapped with a childless-marriage penalty tax?

Conservatives complain that gay adoptions have an insidious effect on the kids. Yet studies suggest that adopted children of gay and lesbian parents are no different from adopted children of heterosexual couples. Virtually every body of experts — starting with the American Academy of Pediatricians, whose members actually deal with kids in the real world — agrees. Gay and lesbian couples adopt a disproportionate number of mentally and physically challenged kids, the most unadoptable. Right-wing critics would let these children rot in foster homes instead.

A recurring, but specious, argument is that if gay marriages are not precluded, that opens the door to polygamy or incestuous relationships. The reality: A central tenet of marriage is to promote stability, far more likely in two-way relationships than in multiple relationships; and the risk of birth defects in children of close relatives is a powerful reason to prohibit such marriages. Further, gay marriage doesn’t undermine religious institutions; any church, temple or synagogue is free to perform, recognize or prohibit such unions.

There is a very persuasive positive case. Marriage, whatever its imperfections, is a stabilizing structure encouraging commitment, caring and responsibility. What rational society tells 5% of its population that they are banned from such an institution? (Most experts now believe that sexual orientation is biological.) Moreover, how can we assail gay men and lesbian women for promiscuity and then deny them the right to an arrangement that promotes monogamy?

I am not, however, going to criticize Democratic presidential hopefuls who duck the matter of gay marriage, staying on the safer ground of civil unions. Politically, many parts of the country aren’t ready.

But social conservatives who saw this issue as a huge bonanza after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay couples have the right to marry may find this a double-edged sword. A majority of Americans will resent demagoguing against people’s sexual orientation.

And the business of writing an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment is messy. A narrow provision is too tame for some, but a broader attempt that also would affect civil unions — where spousal rights and other benefits are widely accepted by many businesses and local governments — would backfire. There is considerable tension within the social right-wing movement now just on how to proceed, and for good reason: The notion of putting sexual relationships in the Constitution is bizarre.

President Bush, with an eye to his political base, declares marriage should be “between a man and a woman,” but waffles on a constitutional amendment. In a television interview this week, he seemed to support the 2000 position of Vice President Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, that the federal government should stay out of this issue. Karl Rove would, in the words of his political soul mate Ralph Reed, love to wage this fight “under the radar screen,” with lots of red meat for true believers but little to turn off the general public.

There are, to be sure, major differences between the fight for gay equality and the racial struggles of yesteryear. But the two struggles share common bonds, a sense of ultimate inevitability and more than a little hypocrisy from the status-quo opposition.

Just this week, we learned that the late Strom Thurmond has an African-American daughter, secretly fathered with the family’s maid almost eight decades ago. This was the same Strom Thurmond who ran for president in 1948 vowing to oppose any social “mixing of the races.”

Now here is the ad from South Carolina’s Alliance for Full Acceptance (founded by the wonderful Linda Ketner).

Picture a photo of two little kids, maybe six or seven years old, sitting beside each other on a stone wall, dangling their feet and talking. The little girl is Zoe. The little boy is Cristopher. I am actually taking advanced computer science courses to be able to post photos on this column – one day you might actually be able to see me Cooking Like a Guy™ – but I don’t trust myself with it yet, so just picture them sitting on that wall above this headline:

Why Is Zoe Worth $308,880 More Than Cristopher?

… Because 1,049 laws discriminate against gay and lesbian Americans and their families.

Zoe’s parents, Tom and Debra, have been married 10 years.  Should either Debra or Tom die, 5-year-old Zoe and her surviving parent would receive social security benefits totaling $308,880 by her eighteenth birthday.  In addition, the surviving parent’s inheritance would be tax free, easing the financial burden.

Cristopher’s parents, Warren and Jim, have been together 18 years, and are not allowed a civil marriage license.  Should Jim die, Cristopher and Warren would be eligible for absolutely nothing, even though Jim has paid into the program all of his working lifetime. Any inheritance Warren or Cristopher would receive from Jim’s estate would be subject to up to 53% in estate taxes.  And, if Jim were to be in the hospital, his partner of 18 years, and his four year old son, might not be allowed to visit him – because they aren’t legally “family.”  Worst of all, if Warren – the adoptive parent – should die first, Jim may have no legal rights to his child.

To review the 1,049 inequalities, visit this government website: www.gao.gov/archive/1997/og97016.pdf. You’ll find unequal treatment of gay and lesbian families in rights that most of us take for granted, such as:

  • Social Security Benefits
  • Retirement and Pension Benefits
  • Veterans’ Benefits
  • Family Sick and Bereavement leave
  • Crime Victim’s Recovery Benefits
  • Divorce responsibilities and protections
  • Inheritance exemption on spouse’s death
  • Family medical insurance protection
  • Medical decision-making and visitation

Say “No!” to the Federal Marriage Amendment Act that would embed discrimination in the Constitution.  Support all loving, committed American families.

And remember, this is a civil matter; not a religious one.  No religious group would be told what relationships it must recognize.  Our country was founded on fairness and equality.  Equality honors all of us.

Of course, the ad looks better than that in real life.  My apologies to the creative team.  But even slapped up on the web site this way, I think it makes its point.

And now, some of your comments . . .

Brooks Hilliard: “I think the case for same-sex unions would be more ‘saleable’ if, when describing the characteristics of it, you would state that it would extend not only ‘equal economic benefits and rights’ but also equal obligations and responsibilities.”

☞ Good point!  I think it’s at least in part an awareness of these obligations and responsibilities that has kept the number of folks going to Vermont for civil unions, or Canada for marriage, relatively low.  Really, it seems to me, if one decried promiscuity and irresponsible behavior, one would want to encourage, not amend the Constitution to prevent, the formation of legal, stable, long-term gay relationships.

Gary: “I read your column after filling out employment forms at work.  The forms asked for an emergency contact (simple, my lover of 13 years), phone number (simple, his cell phone number and our home number), and our relationship (complicated, we had a civil union in VT but live in NJ which does not recognize our relationship).”

Aaron Stevens: “I didn’t get the reference to GLBT people increasing real estate values. Is this a purely economic argument, e.g. more qualified households will increase demand for homeownership, hence a rightward shift in the demand curve which, along with stable supply curve (at least in the Northeast corridor), would lead to a new equilibrium condition where the two curves intersect at a higher overall price? Or was there some pun that I didn’t get?”

☞ I just meant that when gay people move into a ratty old area, it tends to get restored, cleaned up, landscaped, gentrified, and more valuable. Think of it as Queer Eye for the Straight Neighborhood.

Bob Fyfe: “You wrote that gay residents “can actually send real estate values soaring.”  Asbury Park, New Jersey, was once the place for New Yorkers to go in the summer. However, it had declined into a virtual wasteland over the past several decades.  After many failed attempts, Asbury Park is experiencing a renaissance, largely due to the gay community renovating buildings in the city.  Although all of the best deals are obviously gone, I think that you and Charles should buy a place there and have it fixed up as your summer home.  It sure beats Miami in the summer [g].  Here are two websites: asburyboardwalk.com and gayasburypark.com.  Full disclosure:  I have no financial interest in Asbury Park, only a nostalgic one.  I grew up only a few miles from there and as a child that is where we went to the beach and boardwalk.”

Eric Hjelmfelt: “You may want to check this out from the United Methodist News Service.  The writer patiently reviews the passages commonly cited from the Bible in arguments against homosexuality and gay marriage.  He finds that most of the time, they are really addressing the issue of divorce, and it is quite a reach to claim they are applying to homosexuality.”

Marc Fest:  “Here is a nuanced Christian Science Monitor article about the Dutch experience with gay marriage in the past two years (they have the longest track record with it).”

Caleb:This might be a fun link to post on your marriage column. A straight friend here at Wharton sent it to me. ‘Hey,’ he wrote, ‘a “pro-family” group is collecting petitions to show that, by gosh, everyone who visits their webpage (how scientific and unbiased) is against homosexual marriage and/or civil unions. They’re presenting the results to Congress. Wouldn’t it be neat if a bunch of other people went to their webpage and gave them a bit of a wider sample of the population? I mean, if the American Family Association tells Congress that by their own study most people are in FAVOR of homosexual unions, wouldn’t that be kind of neat?”

☞ Why do I think that if the poll turns out that way they won’t report it?

Ward and George:  “We were referred to your column by John Sewell, one of the two Annapolis graduates now, bless their hearts, tormenting the Naval Academy by trying to found an alumni group called ‘USNA out,’ devoted to Gay and Lesbian graduates.  My question (he comes to the point)is, do you maintain a mailing list for your column?   Ward Stewart and George Vye, 48 years together and yet strangers before the law.”

☞ When I was growing up, the only thing most people knew about gay relationships came from a hugely bestselling book by one Dr. David Rueben, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask).  Thirty million copies were sold.  In the book, Reuben described gay relationships as fleeting and impersonal – a quick encounter in the basest of circumstances . . . a note passed under a partition, a quick physical act.  He then asks himself, “Are all homosexual contacts as impersonal as that?” (Was the book a hit in part because of its bite-sized q-and-a format? Yes, I think it was.) And he answers: “No.  Most are much more impersonal.”  Most of us don’t even have time to write notes, he explained to his estimated 100 million readers (including my parents).  “But all homosexuals aren’t like that, are they?” he asks, answering, “Unfortunately, they are just like that.”

It’s a testament to guys like Ward and George that they found a way to forge a 48-year life together with so little encouragement from “society” . . . they were already 13 years into it when Reuben wrote his book explaining that such relationships never last more than a couple of minutes.

It is equally a testament to our fellow citizens that in so relatively short a time such deep and widely-held ignorance and fear could have been so significantly dispelled. Is this a great country, or what?

 

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