Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why I'm OK with same-sex marriage

The proponents of same-sex and traditional marriages are needlessly in opposition to each other. Both sides have forgotten the purpose of marriage and the government has become a rudderless accomplice in states' battles for same-sex marriage and similarly wrongheaded defense-of-marriage amendments in both state and federal constitutions. If both sides understood what a compelling government interest is and marriage's benefit to society all parties could agree on how best to put their money where their mouths are (or should be) -- tax policy.

The more enlightened we become the dumber we seem to get -- and not in the good the-more-we-know-the-more-we-know-we-don't-know way. I'm talking good old fashioned dumb epitomized by, "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is." How can an institution like marriage, sanctioned by religions and governments around the world for thousands of years suddenly be misunderstood? This kind of infectious dumbing presents symptoms in only the most enlightened individuals. The most recent outbreak occurred in Massachusetts' Supreme Court when the court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages, saying the state could not withhold from same-sex couples the rights and privileges of marriage.

I guess it depends on what the meaning of 'marriage' is.

"Old” marriage is a man and woman living together and raising children. Raising children requires parents make sacrifices to feed, clothe, instruct, discipline, and socialize their children to become productive citizens. Parental responsibilities interfere with careers, incomes, education, socializing, recreation, and limit parents' involvement in other extracurricular activities as commitment to their children's activities take precedence over their own. Children become adults, soldiers, enter the labor pool to replace and support retiring, older workers, and pay taxes. In exchange for raising children to adults government recognizes marriages as unique social contracts between a man, a woman, and society that benefits everyone. On behalf of society government taxed families at lower rates, provided deductions for dependents, schools, and supported parents' rights to make decisions on behalf of their minor children. Without children civilizations can't outlive their citizens. A society's health and stability benefits all its members. In essence, children are the raw material society willingly trades benefits and privileges for to guarantee its survival -- making it a compelling government interest.

“New” marriage is consenting adults wanting the advantages of “old” marriage without the attendant benefits to society. Without children a marriage is only adults cohabiting to optimize living expenses.

Tax policy is one instrument government uses to influence its citizens' behavior. The antique definition of marriage and the tax policies that favored it have become increasingly dysfunctional as the nation's demographics changed and the understanding of marriage's purpose atrophied. The imbalance between the two and confusion between the practical and legal applications of marriage has created a rift between those petitioning to legalize “new” marriage and those wishing to protect “old” marriage. For all these reasons the policies crafted to benefit families, and tax policies in particular, have become a tools so blunt the damage caused is indistinguishable from what they seek to construct.

Government used to understand the value of “old” marriage but weakening parental rights legislation and tax policy neglect demonstrates progressive retarding over the last 50 years. In 1948 the federal tax burden on a family of 4 was 2%. By 1960 it has risen to 12% and 24% by 1990. 1997 estimates of all federal, state, local, social security and medicare taxes approached 40%. At this rate we more resemble alligators eating their young than any great society.

Remedies are readily available. Government can get out of the marriage business and focus instead on families. This keeps tradition with the first amendment's non-establishment clause, allows consenting adults to enter into binding contracts, and frees legislatures to shape tax code into an instrument resembling a pen more than a paint brush.

Legislators could start by codifying the definition of dependents to include dependent relatives and contractually-dependent others within a single household. They could then increase the per-dependent deduction to a meaningful amount closer to 2005's Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines ($9575 for single persons in 2005) than the IRS' $3200-per-dependent exemption. They should then take whatever that amount is and index it to inflation so it needn't require an act of congress to keep pace with the economy. Using $9000/dependent a household of four would require a combined income exceeding $36,000 before the lowest tax rates take affect.

Not only might taxes be simplified, but families may more easily afford to have an adult stay at home and care for their children and other dependents and not rely on schools to feed and baby-sit their children before, during, and after school. When tax policy is aligned to accrue benefits to society instead of the self esteem of “marriage” it doesn't matter which definition you use.

Whether it's old or whether it's new
In the beginning you were a child too.


  1. The one political element you miss in the whole discussion, is the absolute demand by gay citizens for the word marriage. This has little to do with benefits and tax breaks. It has everything to do with demonstrating that there is no difference between heterosexuality. and homosexuality. The definition of the word marriage is the last barrier to showing there is no difference.

  2. Sorry but I disagree. If you want to amend the tax code, please go ahead. If gays that enter in a relationship solely to dupe the government do not have a progeny, please tax them to death, but like anonymous said above me, what we actually strive for is equality. I am a gay male in many ways undistinguishable from my str8 counterparts. Very masculine, well built, goodlooking, athletic, PhD in a hard science (quantum maths) and banker, and I would love nothing more than put a ring on someone's finger one and call him my husband. Gays are (I am not sure why) wealthier than the average, so I won't disagree that it makes sense to levy more taxes on us, but there is no way I can allow for that while tied up in a subpar contractual agreement. I want a marriage, the right to adopt, and all the headaches and encumbrances that come with being a married parent. We have a right to that too!

    1. And I support that! I think conservatives and non-conservatives can thank the lgbt community for helping government's mature their thinking on what marriage means and what it doesn't, and what a country's interest actually is in marriage--and what it isn't.

    2. You're welcome Thomas. I'm thrilled that our quest for marriage has reinspired many opposite sex couples to understand what marriage means to them. I'm also thrilled to see so many same sex couples realize that they are perfectly capable of committing and forming permanent relationship. We have seen many positive effects from marriage equality, including increased marriage rates and reduced divorced rates, over and above the expansion of marriage to same sex couples. Many of the "sky is falling" folks simply ignore that. I want this to complementary, not adversarial. I'm glad to see many of our conservatives friends finally come along for the ride.