It may sound like just another scintillating story from the world of tax policy. But a recent episode involving public wages and same-sex marriage in Cambridge adds up to a much larger point: advocates of marriage equality are destined to succeed. Because before long, accountants are going to insist on it.
The Cambridge City Council is hoping to restructure municipal pay so that city employees in same-sex unions will earn the same after-tax salary as their married straight colleagues. The city's manager, however, says that it can't be done — not for any social or political reason, but because untangling the knot of tax codes, state and federal laws, and union contracts that would result in lower after-tax pay for married gays and lesbian is a practical impossibility. Gay marriage is recognized in Massachusetts, but not by the federal government and the IRS.
The same frustrating exercise is undoubtedly playing out in other cities and at companies that have vowed to equalize pay, and it all points to one conclusion: at some point, simply recognizing marriage equality is going to become easier than managing the patchwork of laws that make taxes and benefits such an agonizing ordeal for gay and lesbian couples and their employers.
Call it the boring case for marriage equality: do we really want to contend forever with the inefficiencies of two entirely separate legal structures?
To be sure, left-leaning Cambridge is not exactly a national bellwether. But many jurisdictions recognize either some form of same-sex unions, and many private companies seek to recognize same-sex couples on their own. All would benefit from a national policy treating same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples.
Globe file photo: Susan Shepherd (right) and Marcia Hams (left) apply for Cambridge City Hall's first same-sex marriage license in 2004.