Heteronormativity and Federal Tax Policy
Nancy J. Knauer
Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law
July 19, 2010
West Virginia Law Review, Vol. 101, p. 130, 1998
This Article discusses the heteronormativity of the scholarly debate over the choice of the "appropriate" taxable unit. It illustrates that marital status is pervasive throughout the tax code by contrasting the marital provisions with the current federal tax treatment of same-sex couples. It presents DOMA and the recent "pro-family" tax reform as prescriptive measures to define family that are grounded in moral judgments informed by religion. A brief conclusion notes that since taxation is indeed political, it makes sense that the battle over the changing face of the American family is being mediated, at least in part, through the tax code.
The seemingly discordant marital rules offer a composite picture of marriage as 1) an economic unit, 2) a fundamental unit of society, and 3) an intimate association whose members may not deal with each other at arm's length. To the contrary, same-sex partners always act as strangers under the tax code regardless of the economic or contractual realities of their relationship and regardless of a valid marriage under state law. The exclusion of same-sex couples also carries a symbolic cost. No matter how much taxpayers resent paying tax, the tax code continues to send a strong prescriptive message each year when millions of taxpayers check the appropriate box for their filing status. Your filing status, the way you present yourself and the annual tally of your accomplishments to the state depends, not simply on your marital status, but on the sex of your partner.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 108
Keywords: tax policy, marriage penalty, marriage bonus, same-sex couples, income tax, estate and gift tax, LGBT, gay, lesbian, queer theory, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, heteronormativity, contract for america, Poe v Seaborn
JEL Classification: H24, H31, J12, J78, K34Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: October 30, 2006 ; Last revised: July 19, 2010
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