Friday, December 12, 2008

We're not getting allies complaining this way about the tax laws

If news reports from a panel at last week's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference are correct, some of the leaders of our national organizations need some educating. According to an article in the Washington Blade, "[Human Rights Campaign President Joe] Solmonese and others on the panel agreed that amidst the national recession, a new focus should be placed on the unique economic issues that gay Americans face, such as tax inequities." (emphasis mine)

Tax inequities as economic issues unique to gay Americans? Which would those be? Under our current income tax structure, one family form gets enormous benefits: a married heterosexual couple in which one partner earns all, or the great majority of, the family's income. So if our leaders think the income tax laws are unfair to gay couples, they can only be referring to gay couples in which one partner earns all, or most, of the income. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not fighting a revolution over that issue. And it's not going to win us straight allies either.

Now joining with all the other disadvantaged family forms, and that includes heterosexual married couples who are equal income earners, that's something I can get behind. Turns out the folks who study our income tax system from a critical race perspective, like Emory Law School prof Dorothy Brown, point out that our tax laws disadvantage African-American married couples. Why? Because -- no surprise -- they are more likely to be close-to-equal income earners. So much for tax inequities unique to gay Americans. For more on what's wrong with how our income tax structure treats families, see the excellent website of the Alternatives to Marriage Project.

How about other taxes? Inheritance taxes and property transfer taxes are two examples of laws that favor married couples. But that still doesn't make the inequities unique to gay folks. Two sisters who pool their economic resources for a lifetime? Two single parents -- gay, straight, one of each -- who form an economically and emotionally interdependent unit to raise their children? A loving daughter who devotes 20 years of her life to living with and caring for an ill and aging mother? A communal household of radical faeries?

The list goes on, and the bottom line is that married couples get the tax breaks. If same sex couples could marry-and we got rid of DOMA-, then married same-sex couples would get those breaks too. As far as I'm concerned, that would bring us no closer to tax equity than we are now. For that, we need to make marriage matter less.

And if we're looking for economic issues that will resonate beyond our narrow movement, somebody in our leadership needs to start with just economic policies for all families and relationships, not the benefits wealthy married couples get from our tax laws.


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