The Mighty Logo

How the 'Marriage Penalty' Affects Me as Someone With a Disability

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

In 2015 I began to see writings online about a law that affects the disability community and their benefits if they ever decide to marry. Later, while doing my own research I found out this “law” is called the marriage penalty. When a person on SSI and/or Medicaid marries, their spouse’s resources and income count against their eligibility, which usually causes them to lose their SSI income, Medicaid, and other related programs and services.

Like most little girls, I have always dreamed of my wedding day. So when I found out that this policy actually exists, I was absolutely shocked, heartbroken, and yes extremely pissed. Is it not enough that we as a community are told how much we can make, where we can live, and what we do and do not qualify for. Or we get told countless times how we aren’t “disabled enough” to deserve an equal shot at living the most fulfilled and productive life we can?

There is an actual rule that punishes me for finding love and wanting to spend the rest of my life with him. How did this law even become acceptable to people who most likely have no clue what it’s like to truly be disabled, and have to depend on people/resources to help sustain their lives? Why on earth are you asking us to make a choice between our livelihoods and love? When you know you would never be able to make that choice for yourselves?

I understand there are those who take advantage of the system, and that is ethical, morally  and legally wrong. But what about the ones who don’t? What about the ones who just want to be married because they love one another? And yes, I know a marriage license is just a piece a paper, but there are some who believe the Constitution is just a piece of paper too. (I am not one of them.)

Why is there a punishment for loving someone who happens to be disabled? Why does society and the find it acceptable to essentially put a price tag on loving someone with a disability or disabilities? How is that not considered a punishable act? Love is not a punishment; love is a beautiful blessing in my opinion. When did finding/falling in love in the disability community become the government’s concern?

More importantly, why aren’t you concerned that the most underrepresented community with the largest growth in decades has little to nothing to survive on? That everyday programs are being cut, and waiting lists for things like personal care assistants and housing are getting longer and longer? But by all means, make it a priority to tell those in the community on SSI why we cannot marry for love. That to me is not only an abuse of power, but it is inhumane, prejudiced and unconstitutional.

If I can have all the bells and whistles that make it not only feel like my wedding but look like my wedding, exchange rings, and even legally change my last name then why can’t I have a simple piece of paper that binds it? Who does it truly hurt besides those who want to line their fancy pockets with more money, and congratulate themselves for a job well done in the eyes of their fellow peers? I’ll tell you who it really hurts.

Us, that’s who. We are the ones paying the price for their life-altering decisions that have no rewind, edit, or delete button once they are put into action. I have a personal stake in this law for the simple fact that I have found someone who truly loves me. And he too happens to have cerebral palsy. But unlike me, if he were to marry he would not lose benefits, because he has SSDI and not SSI.

There have been times when I have said to him that if he wanted to break things off because he would be giving up the dream of legally marrying if he stayed with me, I’d understand. Of course he flat out said, “no way in hell.” Followed by, “The government cannot dictate who I can and can not love.” But the sad reality is that because this law exists, that is exactly what’s happening.

No law should tell someone they cannot marry without losing their health care and income. I vow right here and now that no law will ever stop me from loving my boyfriend. Unlike those in a position of power and authority, I believe love is a rare gift with no price tag attached to it. Love is not a bargaining chip, nor should it be another liability for those in the disability community on SSI. As cliche as it may sound, love is love.

Learn more about the marriage penalty via The Mighty’s investigation.

Getty image by Dzevoniia.

Originally published: April 2, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home