Was Annie Leibovitz sunk by a discriminatory 'gay tax'?

Moral arguments aside, there are some very real financial implications faced by couples who can't or won't marry. Last week, savings guru Suze Orman made an impassioned plea for giving all taxpaying Americans equal taxpaying responsibilities, regardless of what happens below the belt.

This week, writers are are looking more closely at what happened to photographer Annie Leibovitz, who was forced deeply into debt and had to pawn the rights to her life's work. Leibovitz has always been deeply secretive about her sex life. In fact, when her partner Susan Sontag died in 2004, the New York Times said it couldn't find enough hard evidence of the relationship in its "extensive reporting" to write about it in Sontag's obituary. So the photographer isn't coming out now, so to speak, about the nitty-gritty of her finances, either.

When I covered the Leibovitz story last week, I paused to wonder whether the differences in inheritance law between married couples and non-married couples had contributed to her monetary meltdown. This week, more analysts are coming to the conclusion that indeed those differences appear to have been a contributing factor to Leibovitz's financial disaster. The AfterEllen blog put it this way:

"When Sontag died in 2004, she bequeathed several properties to Leibovitz, who was forced to pony up half of their value to keep them. Yes, she makes a nice chunk of change from Vanity Fair, and yes, she probably could have just sold the properties when the market was good in 2004, but that's not really the point. The point is she should never have been in the position of paying or selling to not pay as much in the first place. Her wealth and poor decision-making are incidental."

The blogosphere is calling it "The Gay Tax": the larger financial burden paid by American same-sex couples to run a household together. People living under the same constitution and abiding by the same laws are subject to more hits to their paychecks. As U.S. News & World says, gay couples cannot choose to give Social Security benefits to their survivors, nor can they often include each other on employer-based health plans without pay tax penalties. One writer at Salon.com talks about the $329.25 a month she has to pay for her health benefits because of what she does in the bedroom.

GLAAD sums up the other rights given to one set of Americans but not another here. "I had no idea about this aspect of the importance of the legalization of gay marriage," responded a writer at The Evil Beet, a general-interest gossip website. "I am ashamed at my naivety. I just really...Did. Not. Know." I don't think she's alone. Lots of us didn't.

When it comes to Leibovitz, there are a lot of unknowns in this story. First among them is whether this headline-making photog with a quiet private life would have availed herself of equal partnership rights even if they had been legally available. It's also very possible that a botched home renovation, plus lousy money management in general, played equally large parts in bringing her so low. We don't know, and so far, she's not talking about her private life or her balance sheet.

After Ellen goes on:

"Some snarky commentators have remarked that Leibovitz is getting what she deserves for living beyond her means. In many ways, she probably could have prevented her current crisis, but I wonder how many of these "tough" commentators would feel if they suddenly had to pay half of the value of their homes to the government in order to keep on living there."

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