I’m glad the Edith Windsor won her case. I think she deserves it.
The Supreme Court found that not allowing a survivor of a same-sex marriage (as recognized by Canada) to claim the U.S. Federal estate tax deduction that is available for survivors of heterosexual marriages violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution (Amendment 14).
For those who agree with me on the outcome of this case, but also wish to continue to apply different tax rules to high and low-income earners through a progressive tax code, I’m curious to hear why you think holding these two positions is consistent and why the latter position doesn’t violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
By the way, I don’t believe the problem is what the state defines as marriage. I think the problem is that we have a state so entwined in our lives that what it defines as marriage matters.
In this case, if there was no estate tax, there would have been no court case for the Supreme Court to rule on.
I have just one follow-up question for the Ms. Windsor. I’m curious if when her spouse was alive if she filed suit to be able to file a joint Federal income tax return to enjoy the same marriage tax penalty as heterosexual marriages.
Seth, I think you make a great point regarding Ms. Windsor’s failure to complain that she and her partner were not punished by the marriage penalty with regards to income tax purposes.
Just for fun, let’s suppose that Texas decides to be coy and nullifies the marriages of all citizens living in Texas. Thus, “couples” living in Texas will no longer be subject to the marriage penalty with regards to federal income taxes. This will have the effect of reducing Texas’ “contribution” to the federal coffers – unless other states follow suit and similarly abolish marriage. To be really sneaky, Texas could permit marriage only for rich retired citizens, thus reducing it’s citizens contributions to both the federal INCOME tax system as well as the ESTATE tax system.
There is an inherent problem when one state can pass laws that allow its citizens to become free riders at the expense of other states. By manipulating their laws such that citizens of NY state can receive federal benefits – benefits paid for by citizens of states other than NY – that would be unavailable to them if they resided in other states, NY has the power to coerce other states to pass laws granting similar privileges to their citizens. When the tax is levied at the federal level, it is not unreasonable to have federal rules regarding eligibility for benefits (such as the exclusion from the tax) apply. Please do not assume that I agree with the existence of either a progressive federal income tax or a federal estate tax – I don’t. However, given the existence of these taxes, my argument applies.
Now, if you consider the fact that if you live in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage, you must pay some additional amount in taxes in order to offset the tax savings afforded NY’s same sex couples. This may be a small amount, but it’s the principle that is important as small harms eventually become large ones when principle is ignored.
The income tax punishes productivity. A better option would be a head tax combined with the exit of the government from all enterprises where it has no business.