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DOMA Prevents Government From Incentivizing Good Behavior in Same Sex Relationships

Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act is not just about equality–it's also about encouraging socially beneficial behavior in gay relationships.

Fred Silberberg, a Los Angeles attorney that has practiced family law for over 20 years, wrote in the Huffington Post about the unnoticed effects of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Specifically, he talked about a problem a male client was having with alimony payments to the client from the client's same sex ex-partner. Because the IRS doesn't recognize gay relationships, the alimony is not deductible. But if the client had been married to a woman, his wife would be able to deduct alimony payments she makes to him.

The government allows people to deduct alimony payments to encourage ex-spouses to make support payments. The deduction gives one spouse a financial incentive to support the other after a breakup. Fred writes:

It is the tax-deductibility aspect of spousal support that allows us, as lawyers, to try to come up with creative ways to address the issue if at all possible. We try to maximize the tax benefit and use it in a way that reduces overall income tax liability to maximize the dollars that exist to benefit the now-separated family.

The impact to Fred's client and his ex-partner was particularly large because their income levels were high enough that they were paying federal income tax at the maximum rate. Because his ex-partner has no tax incentive to make alimony payments, the client may not receive the support he needs to continue his lifestyle after the dissolution.

But deducting alimony payments is just one of the many income tax deductions available to married (and divorced) couples. These deductions encourage couples to do things that the government believes are good for each other and society in general.

Because the IRS doesn't recognize gay relationships, the government can't give the same encouragement to same sex couples. Repealing DOMA, then, would not just put same sex and opposite sex couples on an equal footing–it would also allow the government to use tax laws to encourage gay couples to make socially beneficial choices.

 [I originally wrote this post for my blog, the Gay Couples Law Blog.]

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Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper