Marriage, faith and taxes

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, "Paying the Tax Collector" Oil on panel.
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Those who pushed the hardest to make the government license and record the “marriage” of two same-sex roommates sharing bed, always had other objects in view. Those activists didn’t wait too long to push their agenda. Like Karl Marx before them, they disparage faith and seek to make charity a part of government and even exclusive to government. But some State governors and attorneys general started to fight back. And if those activists want a debate on the role of taxes in society, when to collect them, and what to spend them on, let’s have it.

From marriage to taxes in a trice

Mark Oppenheimer, of The New York Times, fired the first shot in Time. To begin, he took note of the First Amendment Defense Act. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced this Act two weeks ago. The senator seeks to forbid the IRS to revoke a church’s status as a 501(c)(3) public religious charity if its cleric-in-chief will not perform or recognize same-sex “marriage.” Says Oppenheimer, in effect: liberals think Mike Lee has a paranoid idea. They point to the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, etc. That opinion gives an explicit nod to religious freedom. (CNAV read the text. Mr. Justice Kennedy said nothing more than to tell people not to think of throwing anyone in prison for saying same-sex roommates sharing bed do not have a marriage.) Oppenheimer went on: Senator Lee does not have a paranoid idea. Because Mr. Oppenheimer indeed wants to revoke the churches’ tax-exempt status. And not on any explicit ideological grounds, either. (He’d never get away with that, and he knows it.) He wants to remove every kind of institution from Section 501(c)(3) except only a hospital or some such.

This key paragraph shows Mr. Oppenheimer’s true object:

Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argues that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.

An 1875 marriage certificate

A marriage certificate issued in 1875. Photo: User Roundhere44/Wikimedia Commons, public domain

In other words: when a government lets a private charity run, and does not tax gifts to that charity, the government is outsourcing its duty. Understand: Mark Oppenheimer wants people to depend on government for charity. If you want your free soup, you go to a government soup kitchen. And maybe get your daily dose of propaganda with your soup.

Oppenheimer also shows us how all leftists regard all money as belonging to the state. Call this the Theory of Fiscal Relativity. The government can cut a check on the Treasury account and mark it “Pay to the order of John Doe.” Or it can credit John Doe for doing something, let him deduct some money he spends or loses from his income, and exempt a portion of his income for himself, Mrs. Doe, and each of their children. (He might exempt a double or triple portion for the elderly and/or blind in his household.) Either way, the theory states, the government loses money on the deal. So subsidy means either paying someone directly or exempting that someone from a tax.

This has nothing to do with marriage. It has everything to do with growing government. And let’s take note of one thing Katie Pavlich at Townhall.com missed. Mark Oppenheimer does not mean to say, “If you agree to call it ‘marriage’ when same-sex roommates share bed, we will still exempt you from taxes.” He wants to exempt no one. He attacked Planned Parenthood along with the National Rifle Association, and even Ivy League and other colleges and universities (except, remember, for the hospitals they run). He particularly attacked Yale University, in his home city of New Haven, Conn. This writer graduated from Yale (Class of 1980). This writer remembers the bitter campaign of mayors like Frank X. Logue to force Yale to make certain “payments in lieu of taxes” to make up for the property taxes his city “lost.” Of course, no one ever asked Mayor Logue, nor does anyone ask the present mayor, what they do with the taxes they raise.

The battleground of faith

Taxes aside, faith becomes an obvious battleground, in three ways. First, as Senator Lee tried to head off, the notorious “Cincy Office” of the IRS might revoke 501(c)(3) determinations from churches (or synagogues) whose pastors (or rabbis) refuse a marriage ceremony to a pair of same-sex roommates. Second, private businesses who offer wedding services have already, in some cases, had to fold because they did not want to call it “marriage” between two men or two women. (We haven’t even dealt yet with a cluster of roommates playing musical beds calling that a marriage.) Third, county clerks, surrogates, probate judges, and the like have religious feelings, too. Will atheists seize on the “marriage issue” to purge all governments of anyone holding a religious faith? Stay tuned.

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas did not wait. He sounded a call to fight back. First he said what CNAV has said about the Supreme Court’s marriage decision, and about the Court now acting like some kind of Committee of Public Safety, constantly rewriting a fluid Constitution. Then he boldly declared:

Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected. No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.

Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General, made it official. No county clerk, justice of the peace, or judge need issue a marriage license to a pair of roommates of the same sex, nor perform any civil marriage ceremony. Not if their religious convictions tell them not to. The roommate pairs might sue, but General Paxton believes those suits would fail. He also addressed squarely the question of a pastor or rabbi performing any given marriage ceremony. The law lets them so act, but does not force them to so act for all comers.

Michael Brown, also at TownHall.com, sounded his own call to fight back. He cited this warning of the harassment to come, from governments and from the country’s largest employers. He then said, “Thank you, Mr. Justice Kennedy, for making my points.” Chief among them: redefining marriage will strip it of its meaning. “You have galvaniz[ed] the pro-marriage side and confirmed our warnings and concerns,” he finished.

A new tax code

Thus far only Mr. Oppenheimer has opened the debate on when and how to collect taxes, and what to spend them on. The time has come to have that debate. Oppenheimer, oddly enough, gives us some instructive history. Few remember when the highest marginal income-tax rate reached as high as ninety-four percent. This could have shut down charitable giving. But Congress let people deduct the full value of gifts of cash, securities, or whatever. (Congress recently changed this, but has not yet raised the tax rates to those confiscatory levels.) This gave the IRS power to decide what religions deserved the name, and the consideration that goes with the name. And gave rise to many other things Mr. Oppenheimer found wrong. Remember: to him, cutting a check differs not at all from letting you keep more of what you made or took in. So Planned Parenthood gets a “subsidy,” and the National Rifle Association gets another “subsidy,” every time a person pays a due or gift to either group and deducts that gift on his Schedule A.

And no one, except CNAV, has yet recalled the marriage penalty. Two single people may deduct more of their income, as a standard, than the same two people married and filing either joint or separate returns. What will those same-sex roommates say when suddenly they must file a joint income-tax return as a married couple instead of filing separate tax returns, each as a single man or woman? Tsk, tsk. Somebody didn’t think ahead.

Enter Americans for Fair Taxation. Their idea: tax you when you buy something new. They suggest a rate of twenty-three percent. Buy used, and you need not pay the tax. (They mean to tax everything once and only once.) Are you married? Single? Widowed? That doesn’t matter! Under the Fair Tax, you don’t file any return! The merchant files the return, on the sale of new stuff. You also get a “pre-bate” of the taxes you would pay on a basket of goods and services, enough to keep you alive for a year. The government would not “exempt” any group, nor let anyone deduct gifts to that group from their income. Because the government would not tax income. It would tax buying of new goods. The local church or temple could “skate” on that by buying used, or accepting gifts-in-kind. (And anyone who goes to church regularly will, sooner or later, give their voluntary labor on “Special Work Days.” No one would ever tax that.)

Americans for Fair Taxation has a Fair Tax bill in Congress now. The marriage debate does indeed open the tax debate, as Mr. Oppenheimer said. But someone has a solution even more “radical” than he proposed. And along with that, let’s have the debate on the functions a government ought to perform, and about why the government need recognize marriage for tax, probate, or any other purpose.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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