Thursday, December 5, 2013

All couples are equal, but some couples are more equal than others

MK Adi Kol (Yesh Atid) introduced a bill recently that was scheduled to be voted on today, granting same-sex couples the same rights mixed-sex couples enjoy vis-à-vis tax "points". Under the existing "point system", each person is assessed a number of points for different criteria (being a recent immigrant, having recently completed some higher education, having served in the army for a certain period, family status, etc.). For each point, a person receives a reduction in income tax, currently 218 shekel per month.

There is a difference in the amount of point given to fathers and mothers, with additional points being given to mothers, in order to encourage women with children to return to/enter the workforce. Besides the extra benefit given to mothers, women receive an extra half of a point (currently about 1,300 shekel per year) for the impressive accomplishment of having two X chromosomes in every last cell in her body, irrespective of the number of children she has, or even if she has any at all.

According to Kol, same-sex couples of two men are treated unfairly under the current system, as they cannot take advantage of the additional tax points given to mothers, while same-sex couples of two women can "double-dip", with each one enjoying those extra points. In order to even things out, MK Kol proposed that one member of a same-sex couple will receive points as if s/he were a man, and the other as if s/he were a woman. The couple decides which one is which (George Costanza's philosophical conundrum of "how do you decide who leads" remains, tragically, unresolved).

At first glance, this seems like a fair law (despite Habayit Hayehudi's vigorous objection to it). There's no reason that, if the government gives a form of tax relief to a couple raising a child, it should only give it to mixed-gender ones. Once both parents are in the workforce, the extra money each month can go a long way towards defraying the necessary child-care expenses, irrespective of the genders of the parents.

However, in extending the tax break to same-sex couples, MK Kol is giving them an advantage that mixed-sex couples do not enjoy. Tax points are only valuable to someone who has an income; someone who does not pay income tax does not get the tax relief. In most mixed-sex, if, after the birth of a child, one spouse decides to give up working in favor of spending more time with the children (sometimes called "raising the children", but, from my experience, families with two working parents also raise the children, so I'll avoid the phrase in this context), it usually is the woman who does it, thereby giving up the tax relief the family would have received had she stayed in the workforce instead of the man. Whether this decision is due to social mores, biology, etc., is irrelevant. The bottom line is that in such cases, the additional tax benefit given to parents is forfeited if the mother does not return to work after a new child comes along.

However, same-sex couples are not so restricted by their physiology. If one of the spouses decides to give up working in favor of spending more time with their children, there is nothing stopping them from selecting the working spouse to receive the tax relief granted to women, even though he is assuming the typical "male" role.

If MK Kol really wanted to make all couples equal under the law, there are better ways to have done this. For example, she can extend the right to select who gets the extra tax points to all couples. Alternatively, she can change the way points are assigned, and instead of giving extra points to one of the spouses for his/her children, give it to a couple in which both spouses have an income (i.e., in a single-income family, points are given as they currently are given to a man; once the second spouse enters the workforce, the additional points are given, either to one of the spouses, or divided between the two).

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and written in a calm, rational way.