In advance of last night’s GOP presidential debate, GOProud, a conservative LGBT group, repeated a charge by Texas Gov. Rick Perry characterizing Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” — at least for LGBT Americans.
“There will be plenty of lively discussion on the stage tonight about Social Security: its history, where it stands today, and its future,” said GOP executive director Jimmy LaSalvia in a statement. “One thing, however, is absolutely clear – for gay and lesbian Americans Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.”
Calling for reform of the system that includes some standard Republican ideas such as private accounts, LaSalvia sounded a tone more like the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force than the Republican National Committee. The announcement appeared to mark a subtle shift in tone from previous press releases that shocked the community by, among other things, praising Ann Coulter after she made anti-gay remarks and criticizing the president’s jobs bill on the eve of the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“Every Ponzi scheme has its winners and losers, and for gay people in this country we are the losers in the Social Security system,” the release continued.
Though many LGBT activists may not be on the same page with the specific reforms that GOProud advocates in the letter, most will likely agree with the stern condemnation of inequalities faced in federal programs like Social Security due to the Defense of Marriage Act.
“We don’t have any position on whether or not it’s a ‘Ponzi scheme’ in general, what is clear cut is it’s a ‘Ponzi scheme’ for gay people,” GOProud board chair Chris Barron told the Blade. “We’re paying in for benefits that we’re being prevented from taking advantage of.”
GOProud leaders believe the remedy to the inequities in Social Security lies in instituting optional individual personal savings accounts that allow the owner to choose any beneficiary they desire — same-sex or opposite sex spouse.
“If you’re Leona Helmsley and you want to leave it to your dog, you can,” Barron continued. “It’s your money.”
“The Social Security system, as structured today, is state sanctioned institutional discrimination against gay and lesbian people in this country,” Barron said. “Obviously, [GOProud is] a gay organization, and we bring a particular perspective to everything, and we think Social Security is an area where we can put aside our partisan differences and creating something like optional accounts would give gay people the same kind of opportunity and remove the inequities between gay couples and straight couples.”
“There are some things in there that we can agree with,” National Stonewall Democrats’ Michael Mitchell told the Blade. “There are some ways that the law can be tightened up so that Social Security can be available for everyone. But saying we need to do away with Social Security isn’t the right answer.”
“It’s a safety net, it’s not a Ponzi scheme, it looks like that because as gay people we don’t get back what straight people do because of [the Defense of Marriage Act better known as DOMA], but we do get something back,” Mitchell continued in response to GOProud. “Most of Social Security is tied to the marital contract and until we do away with DOMA that’s always going to be an issue.”
Mitchell said the tone of GOProud’s announcement was much different than previous statements from the sometimes provocative organization.
“Maybe they’re learning their lesson that just throwing bombs at the gay press doesn’t endear yourself to anyone,” Mitchell said. “Aligning yourself with Ann Coulter and Andrew Breitbart and people who are against the gay community doesn’t make you friends. They’ve been out and out combative, and you can see that by the comrades they’ve chosen. Coming to common ground entails some trust. I would need to know that they are coming from an honorable place in order to work on something, and they’d expect that from us. That’s not going to happen as long as the demagoguery is going on.”
“I would like to have a conversation about how to make Social Security equitable for gay and lesbian Americans,” Michell continued. “I think that we start with getting rid of DOMA. I don’t think that’s the only answer though because that sets up inequality between states that don’t have marriage and do have marriage.”
Despite seeing an opening for dialogue, Mitchell does not agree with GOProud’s private accounts plan.
“I know that sounds terrible from a ‘free market’ perspective, but this was set up to take care of seniors and other people who were not being taken care of, and I would prefer to err on the side of caution for something like that.”
“How many seniors would we see now that wouldn’t have any Social Security because they gambled it away in bad investments.”
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