Make Them Pay
Hey there Christian conservatives! Are you sad because courts are scrapping second-class citizenship for gays and lesbians? Do you just want to put them all back in the closet? Or at least marginalize them? Maybe not have to put up with with that snooty gay couple who just moved into your neighborhood — and the horrible embarrassment of having to explain them to your kids?
And do you want to reduce the federal deficit while you’re at it? I thought you might — and have I got a deal for you!
In the truly Maoist spirit of heightening the contradictions, I present you the following strategy. Take it. It’s all yours.
Let’s start with one of the lesser-known (but still very important) federal rights that come with marriage — immunity from federal gift taxes. As tax lawyer Robert W. Wood explains it,
If you’re married, there’s no limit on the amount of money or property you can transfer back and forth between spouses. There’s no gift tax and no limit (except in those instances where the spouse getting the assets isn’t a U.S. citizen). If you’re not married, you are limited to $13,000 per year tax free. Any gifts beyond that trigger an immediate gift tax or eat into your lifetime gift-tax exemption of $1 million. If you use the gift tax exemption it reduces, dollar for dollar, the amount you can pass on estate tax free to heirs at your death, and most people prefer saving the exemption for their estates. (While the estate tax has lapsed for 2010, under current law the estate tax exemption will be just $1 million come Jan. 1, 2011.)
Gift tax immunity is one of the many marriage-related rights that can’t be had through any other means. Civil unions, domestic partnerships, contracts, and even state-level same-sex marriages all fail to grant immunity owing to the Defense of Marriage Act, which spells out that even state-level same-sex marriages are never valid for federal purposes like this one.
From here, the method is simple: Identify wealthy gay couples, particularly those with disparate incomes, and report them to the IRS. It’s easy to do, and if the couples are not very careful about documenting joint ownership of their major assets, there will be trouble. Even a middle-class gay couple in which one partner bought the other a car might qualify, if they didn’t report the gift as such and declare the exemption.
I can’t get precise stats on tax cheating, obviously, but I bet there are plenty of violators out there — people who are, in effect, pretending to be federally married, and who are costing you money. Make them pay. Make sure marriage means something. Stand up for your rights!
If this strategy gets traction, the knock-on effects will be tremendous. Gay couples will avoid commitment. They’ll return to the closet, or at least they’ll stop trying to affirm their relationships in public. Wealthy, high-profile, role-model gays — the sort who most often lead people astray — will have to go back into hiding for fear of the IRS.
Gay relationships will suffer, which is precisely what I take it that religious conservatives want. The gift tax immunity for married couples recognizes the financial reality of marriage, which is that both partners usually share pretty much everything, and sorting it all out would go a long way toward dividing the couple against themselves. Which happens to be just what we want for homosexuals. (Right?)
Beyond that, I’m genuinely curious: Would it work? Should it be tried? Why isn’t it being tried already? Do you find it appealing? Would it, in your opinion, help to save marriage?
(Note to the clueless: What I really think is that this is a horrible strategy, one almost certain to backfire. But most people don’t know about the federal gift tax immunity, even as it protects and enables their heterosexual marriages — that is, even as it shelters their families from the state. “Write up a contract,” these people say, cluelessly. “It’s just as good as a marriage.” If only!
Most religious conservatives I think will be loath to enlist the IRS in their cause. I suspect they won’t want to sign on to the above. Good for them, I suppose. But if civilization really is at stake, why not?)