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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 Independent.ie:

“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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