Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Notes on Marriage and Taxes

[Starting this new blog a couple days ago, I did not aim to make the first post topical. It's supposed to be an introduction to me and my background, replete with links, etc. But I haven't time this morning for all that so the following notes will be recorded here instead...]


My Facebook friend Kami Donnelly (who has been a cyber-friend for years, but that story will have to wait for another post) put a simple question on her timeline:  "Am I the only one that thinks government shouldn't be in the marriage business in the first place???"  
She received a short string of comments, including mine, which I am capturing here for future reference...
Probably not. But as long as tax policy and survivor benefits are a matter of law the role of government is inevitable. The "marriage penalty" for instance means that a lot of old people are shacking up instead of getting married lest one or the other lose part of their income. Same dilemma for two wage earners who decide if "filing jointly" or "filing separately" results in a lower tax rate. Then there is the matter of child support, alimony and which parent may claim a child of a divorce as a dependent. All these financial and legal puzzles arise from marriage policies.  
Tomorrow the Court will hear arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act which disallows even same-sex companions granted "civil union" status in several states from receiving federal benefits -- insurance coverage or any benefits forthcoming to veterans or military casualties. Again, the definition of what constitutes marriage will be the centerpiece of the argument.
Thanks to the Tenth Amendment most of those definitions are considered state responsibility rather than federal. For example the legal ages for voting, drinking, consent to marry, status of "emancipated minor" and others is a state matter and varies from state to state. That list of race, religion, place of national origin, gender, etc which defines what is called the "protected classes" for the purpose of legally defining discrimination has NOT thus far included sexual orientation as a "protected class." Employment issues dividing the "right to work" states from those which are more union-friendly is another example of an issue that has historically been a state matter, not federal. 
When a state or national government collects taxes it becomes responsible for how that those taxes are used. The creation of a marriage -- in fact the legal creation of any entity called "church" -- involves tax policy. Without a license the relationship of two people living together falls into a grey area that the law has recognized from ancient times, "common law marriage". By licensing marriage the state clarifies and recognizes the relationship legally (not morally -- morality is not decided by law) for tax purposes. Moreover, a clear, dated, filed and legally established marriage clarifies matters of divorce, inheritance, child support and benefits status of spouses. (In fact, a marriage license gives legal meaning to the commonly used word "spouse" which does not refer to gender.) As long as churches (and church related business operations -- hospitals, schools, other properties) enjoy the benefits of being tax-exempt, they have traded their "separateness from the state" for those tax advantages. And don't forget that church contributions are also tax deductible, another tax benefit bestowed on both churches and their membership by the state.

Arguments for the separation of church and state quickly melt when taxes become part of the discussion.
Already I have used these notes to interact with another blog post at Not The oSingularity.
I have a feeling that keeping up with a blog in addition to Twitter and Facebook is gonna require me to be quick on my  feet   keyboard.


Seems like when I first wake up my mind works most clearly. My first Facebook comments often come out better organized than later in the day when my head gets full of too many distracting thoughts. This is what just came out this morning in response to someone else's "status update" reflecting on the Supreme Court's session today hearing arguments regarding the constitutionality of California's Proposition Eight, which made gay marriage illegal in that state.


I've watched sincere religious folks working all my life to use the law to make everybody's beliefs and behaviors conform to their own. How many times have we heard "there oughta be a law"? It's a human impulse, I suppose. It was tried with drinking so we got prohibition (which clearly failed to stop that behavior). As everybody knows by now there is a subset of faithful Muslims who want to make religious law trump civil law, although in places where that has been imposed results are way short of the goals (provisions must be made for infidels to drink and even religious laws must bend to wink at prostitution). The reality is that legality and morality are not congruent. They never were and never will be identical. I think it was one of the Federalist papers that observed that if men were angels there would be no government.

Those who want to encourage and support traditional marriage would serve their aims better by discovering and working on the reasons for the failure rate as reflected in divorce statistics and what has been called "serial monogamy." Likewise, those who would make end of life and beginning of life rules normative for all would be more effective by changing their goals. Encouraging widespread sex education and accessibility to effective family planning, including effective, easily obtained contraception, would dramatically reduce abortion rates much better than the blunt instruments being wielded by the so-called "pro-life" crowd. And the religious extremists (who say the afterlife is better than this one) would make the end of this one less painful by advancing the causes of palliative care and hospice instead of yelling about death panels.

The Court only hears arguments today. We won't discover the final decision for some time. Let's hope they find a way that we can all just get along. Where the is a will there is a way. A way to "get along" is what I mean, not to make everybody agree. Isn't that what democracy is really about? There is a story about Jews and Christians arguing about the Messiah. As Christians wait for a Second Coming, Jews still wait for the First. They finally decided to get along when someone suggested "let's wait for Him to come, and when he gets here we can ask Him if He's ever been here before."

No comments:

Post a Comment