Decentralizing Family: An Inclusive Proposal for Individual Tax Filing in the United States
61 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2009 Last revised: 15 Jun 2018
Date Written: November 10, 2009
The debate in the United States over individual versus joint federal income tax filing is at something of a crossroads. For decades, progressive - and, particularly, feminist - scholars have urged us to abolish the joint return in favor of individual filing. On the rare occasion when scholars have described what such an individual filing system might look like, the focus has been on the ways in which the traditional family must be accommodated in an individual filing system. These descriptions generally do not take into account - let alone remedy - the tax system’s ongoing failure to address the tax treatment of nontraditional families. More recently, scholars concerned with the sexual-orientation-based discrimination that pervades our tax laws have proposed extending joint filing to same-sex and, in some cases, unmarried different-sex couples. But these proposals are equally problematic because they merely widen the privileged circle by extending the tax advantages provided to traditional families to other relationships patterned after the traditional family (and only to such relationships). Especially in view of the growing complexity of family arrangements in the United States, I find neither of these proposed paths to be desirable. As an alternative, I lay out a third path in this article that has a different, more inclusive destination. Relying on the Canadian experience with individual filing and proposals there to move “beyond conjugality,” I sketch the outlines of an individual filing system that, where appropriate, recognizes all economically interdependent relationships for tax purposes — and not only those that are patterned after the traditional family headed by a married different-sex couple.
Keywords: tax, taxation, return, individual, joint, United States, Canada, sexual orientation, gender, feminist, economic interdependence
JEL Classification: K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation