Equality Before The Taxman

Roberton Williams looks at the tax consequences of the DOMA decision:

Edith Windsor sued the federal government because her wife’s estate had to pay more than $363,000 in estate taxes. The estate would have paid nothing if the federal government recognized her marriage.

The estate tax provides only marriage bonuses. An estate may claim an unlimited spousal exemption for inherited assets—and thus pay no tax—while the total exemption for all other heirs is limited, currently to $5.25 million. And any unused part of that limited exemption carries over to the estate of the surviving spouse, thus guaranteeing that $10.5 million of the couple’s combined assets will go to heirs estate tax-free. DOMA’s demise can thus result in lower estate taxes for same-sex couples, although very few will be affected: less than 0.2 percent of decedents leave estates big enough to owe tax.

But he notes that for “many same-sex couples will find that federal recognition of their marriages means higher income tax bills.” TNC, who writes that “the right to marry is the right to protect one’s family,” reflects on the estate tax money that will be refunded to Windsor, in the context of slavery:

The state repossessing a couple’s wealth because it finds them icky, is wholly unjust. It recalls a particularly horrible aspect of slavery–the assault on the families of people deemed to be outside the law. There is a particular war here, which better people than me can speak to. But power is at the core of the long war which began sometime in the mid-17th century with the passage of the first slave codes. The prohibitions against same-sex marriage are not simply about witholding the right to be pretty in a dress or dashing in a tux (though I would deny no one their day.) It is about ensuring that only certain kinds of people, and certain kinds of families, are able to amass power, and with that power, influence over the direction of our society.