Friday, March 6, 2009

The promotion of marriage

The U.S is (amongst others) founded on the principle of separation of the state and church. This has been interpreted to mean that the government should not "prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion". One can argue that this principle is not always followed, as perhaps most obvious when looking at our dollar bills that state "In God We Trust", a slogan that is also the national motto.

A less visible promotion of religion is perhaps the way the income tax structure is set up in this country. It seems there is an inherent promotion of marriage and consequent penalization of civil unions or co-habitation couples in the structure of exemption categories.

Couples living together without a marriage license at most qualify as "head of household" thereby excluding them from the exemption allowed married couples. For the purpose of federal taxes civil union partners will usually file as "single" on their federal tax returns. Another benefit granted married couples is that one can claim a spouse as a dependent thereby making employer-provided benefits such as health coverage a tax-free benefit. For domestic partners, such benefits are instead regarded as additional taxable income for employees.

A less known (at least for me) benefit is that as a part of a married couple one can create a family partnership, allowing you to divide business income among family members.

This is an issue that is broader than whether or not same-sex couples should be granted equal rights, it goes to the very core of the principles this country was founded on. The promotion of marriage is in many ways the promotion of religion and as such, a clear breach of the 1st amendment and the principle of separating state and church.


  1. It seems to me that it is less about religion and more about a contractual relationship between two people. The government is not dictating that any specific religion and its practices must be completed, in fact there are multitudes of religions practiced in this country. It would seem that marriage as a practice has allowed the government a mechanism and process that is used to define program participants and to set up the requirements and rules regarding that program, i.e. income tax.

  2. I agree with the above comment. Regardless of the religion practiced by any two people, marriage is encouraged through tax breaks. Though marriage certainly has roots in Western religion, I believe it is also promoted for the benefit of children--many researchers have found that children's workforce and education outcomes improve when raised in a (married) two-parent household.

    Thank you for sharing the little tidbit about business income. I wasn't aware of the family partnership benefit. It certainly favors nuclear families.

  3. Nina, in Minnesota, even one person alone can create a LLC (limited liability company) as so to pass business income to personal income.