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Love, Death and Taxes as the Supreme Court Takes on Marriage Equality

Photo by Mark Fischer

Photo by Mark Fischer

I spent last night helping my son file his taxes. We used online tax preparation software, and he has a fairly simple student-employment life at 19, so it wasn’t so bad, except for the part where I have to answer fifty bajillion questions because he seems to have decided that this is the year he will learn all about the U.S. Government’s Byzantine tax code system.

Engaged and educated young electorate and workforce, yay.

Busy moms who have to teach this instead of catching up on Modern Family, boo.

No, seriously, I’m gratified he is continuing to take a personal interest in the systems that run the world. It’s humbling to be asked the questions as though I completely might know the answers, though. It’s so much like the “how do worms mate with themselves” and “how do boogers get made” questions of a decade ago. Only with more wonkiness. I have no idea what all the stuff about the railroad taxes are. I pity the farmer’s accountants and praise my own.

But even if he ends up having an accountant of his own for his business, or decides to pay for tax preparation in the future, filing for yourself is an excellent way to learn the basics of taxation.

As we looked at the filing options, we ended up talking a marriage equality a few times. Filing status, obviously is a fairness issue. We also talked about how a LGBT parent might not be able to take deductions for health care, child care or education of their child if they aren’t the child’s “one” legal parent in a state that doesn’t recognize the legalities family. Is this something straight families consider when they file their taxes, how different their documents  (and bottom line) would look if one of the parents wasn’t allowed to claim the support they provide?

“How is that fair?” he asked again and again.

It just isn’t. And we have to change that. Taxation without representation. Talk about your tea party. It was interesting to talk about these issues, which certainly are very personal to my son, in a whole new light: as a taxpayer questioning the codes that govern his contributions and the systems that he is dutifully funding. 

So then, sort of as dessert to our beefy meal of tax codes, we talked about estate taxes and the case that will be before the Supreme Court in just two weeks. I told him about Edie Windsor’s advocacy on behalf of the justice and equality that should have been afforded to her after her wife Thea’s death. That’s what the marriage equality case before the Supreme Court is about, those inevitable twins, death and taxes. Marriage equality really isn’t about love that we have for our families in abundance, whether it’s legally recognized or not. Death (and the right to visit each other when sick), family benefits like custody, adoption and health care coverage, and taxes — at least those things should be fair.

“DOMA’s just not fair at all.” You’ve got that right, kid.

So he wrapped up his meager EZ file, entered his bank routing number and hit “submit.” Bit by bit, year by year, we each learn a little more about how things work, and how they don’t. It’s amazing to watch a teenager become a young adult who has many complicated systems to navigate with fresh eyes, and hopefully has ideas on how to make broken systems work better.  I’m trying to do my part. Even though as a lesbian mom I haven’t been afforded equal rights in many instances of my life, I’ve raised a thoughtful tax payer. I hope the Supreme Court does its part and does right by me, by him, and by all the other taxpaying LGBT families like mine  in the weeks ahead.


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