When marriage means only: “a way to avoid taxes”

Matt Murphy and Michael O’Sullivan are good friends – they’ve been friends for almost 30 years. They are also straight. And, as of the Dec. 22, according to the Irish government, they are husband and husband. The two decided to get “married” so that 85-year-old Murphy could pass on his house to the younger 58-year-old Sullivan, tax-free. As O’Sullivan explained the arrangement to

“I was homeless, sleeping in my car and [Murphy] needed someone to move into his home and take care of him. He was losing his sight and needed a full-time [caregiver]. He told me that he couldn’t afford to pay me but said that I could live with him and he would give me his house when he passed away as payment.”

The problem was, if Murphy simply deeded the house to O’Sullivan in his will, O’Sullivan would be faced with a €50,000 tax bill under Ireland’s inheritance tax. And since the formerly homeless O’Sullivan doesn’t seem to have a lot of money lying about, such a bill might well have forced him to sell the home to pay the taxes. And then he’d be homeless again.

However, spouses seem to be exempt from this inheritance tax, and when the two straight men heard of this option they decided it only made sense to get “married.”

There’s an obvious problem here, and another lurking underneath.

Marriage becomes meaningless

First up, we can see here that when God’s standards are abandoned, the State’s replacement has no foundation. Redefining marriage hasn’t left us with a different version of this institution, but only turned “marriage” into a meaningless term. As God defined it, marriage is a man and a woman becoming one flesh, for life. The State undermined the “for life” part with no-fault divorce, and the “man and woman” part by recognizing same-sex couplings. The act of homosexual sex makes a mockery of the “one flesh” part, and, in a different way, the Murphy/O’Sullivan “friendship marriage” does too.

So what then are we left with? Marriage has been redefined to mean only “a means of tax-avoidance.”

Death taxes are problematic

Another problem lurking in the background of this story is the nature of the tax they are working so hard to avoid. Of course, taxes are never popular, but inheritance taxes are particularly problematic.

How so?

Well, consider the basis on which the State is taking in these taxes. Normally taxes are justified as a trade of sorts. We fund the government and in exchange we get benefits from that government, like policing, roads, healthcare, unemployment insurance, etc. But what services will Murphy get? None at all – the tax only kicks in after he has departed. It is something for nothing.

Consider also that while elections give us a say in how taxes are used, an inheritance tax is “taxation without respiration.” A death tax is revenue without accountability, since (at least in most electoral districts) the dead don’t get to vote.

This type of taxation also undermines property rights. Do we really own something if we can’t give it to whomever we wish? Murphy wants to give his home to his friend, but he can’t (or at least he can’t unless he resorts to these extreme measures). He can only given a portion of it, with the State demanding the rest. But Murphy’s wealth has already been taxed when he first earned it, so why isn’t the remainder – the after tax portion – now finally his to do with as he wishes?

Finally, we should consider what such a tax encourages. If parents spends all their wealth and leave their children nothing, then the State is satisfied. But if parents save, and invest, and build a business that they want to hand on to the next generation, then the State demands a share. So such a tax encourages spending, and penalizes investing.

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  1. Sharon

    December 29, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    Inheritance tax is inherently wrong!

    As for what these two men did – if they don’t actually commit the sexual sin, and the term “marriage” has indeed become
    another term for a legal tax status – is it completely wrong? I am pondering.

  2. James D Curtis

    December 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Scam marriage to avoid taxes is wrong, even if that tax is immoral. Secondly, deceit according to the Heidelberg Catechism LORD’S DAY 43 (which I believe faithfully expounds Scripture)
    112. What does the ninth Commandment require?
    That I bear false witness against no one (Prov. 19:5, 9), twist no one’s words (Ps. 15:3), be no backbiter or slanderer (Rom. 1:28-30), join in condemning no one unheard or rashly (Matt. 7:1-2; Luke 6:37); but that on pain of God’s heavy wrath, I avoid all lying and deceit (John 8:44) as the very works of the devil (Prov. 12:22; 13:5); and that in matters of judgment and justice and in all other affairs, I love, speak honestly, and confess the truth (1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:25); also, insofar as I can, defend and promote my neighbor’s good name (1 Peter 4:8).

  3. Justin Lake

    January 4, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    What you fail to state is that heterosexuals can do this as well. Your making this argument against same-sex marriage in order to denigrate the love and commitment among homosexual couples. Men and women play the system too.

    Second, where is the outrage against quicky weddings and divorce? Conservative Christians throw mud at homosexual couples while saying nothing against divorce and Vegas weddings. That’s why many un-churched view Christians as being hypocrites.

    Third, my spouse and I, who’ve been together for 18 years (longer than many heteros). We work hard, pay taxes, care for our elders, do our civic duty; yet when it comes to taxes, healthcare costs, inheritance, etc; conservative Christians want us treated as if we are strangers, second class humans.

    • Reformed Perspective

      January 4, 2018 at 11:11 pm

      You’re right, heterosexuals have assaulted God’s intention for marriage with quicky marriages and divorces. I make a similar point in my sixth paragraph, when I note the problem of no-fault divorce.

      But you seem to have missed my main point. I’m arguing that marriage is defined by God, and not the State. And I’m arguing that when the State presumes that it can redefine this institution apart from God’s standards, we quickly discover that this only leads to a break down in meaning. As this “friendship marriage” shows, the world has so downgraded its understanding of marriage that all it means now is “a way to avoid taxes,” having more in common with IRAs or 410(k)s than anything beautiful or noble.

      That’s what happens when we reject God – we replace what is true and enduring with what it transitory and ultimately meaningless. Enduring joy can only be found in seeking God’s will, experiencing His forgiveness, and enjoying Him forever.

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