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Black Lamb


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A taxing situation

April 1st, 2007


The Italian government has recently adjusted some of its income tax regulations. As a result, according to Corriere della Sera, at one level of income at least, single people now have to pay three times as much income tax as those of their fellow citizens who are married with a couple of kids and a dependent spouse.

This strikes me as just a bit unfair. Unlike many of my friends and acquaintances, I have no objection to paying taxes, and probably, Italy being the country it is, I could get away with paying less than I actually do. But I consider them an essential part of civilized life. Though some of what I contribute to the commonwealth gets wasted, most of it is still spent on really useful projects like confining my neighbors’ children during daylight hours to places of education. I can also put up with the idea that I might be subject to a bit of discriminatory taxation, up to a certain point — but to have to pay fully three times as much as a married person is too much.

I have scratched my head for ages to try to understand why we are being penalized in this way for choosing to stay single, but I can find no convincing answer. Since it is widely believed that single people have a larger disposable income than married people — though how do we know that, and what do we mean by “disposable”? — it is just about possible that the people who pass these laws are working on the principle, “From each according to his or her ability, to each according to her or his need”. The present Italian government is made up in part of former communists, so I can see why they might think that a good idea, but don’t they also do punitive taxation of the unmarried in the USA? I hesitate to accuse any U.S. government, whether of the right or of the far right, of acting on even vaguely Marxist principles, so there must be some other explanation, and perhaps even a justification, for regulations of this type.

It might be the case, I suppose, that governments want to discourage a possible proliferation of one-person households, on the grounds that in a society of finite resources there are better things for the community to invest in than pointlessly reduplicated kitchens, toilets, and light bulbs. Tax allowances offered to people sharing accommodation — if we concede that they do actually induce more people to share — will reduce the number of toilet bowls that need to be produced, and so liberate resources that can then be dedicated to giving the military more and better weapons, for instance. As a theory, this doesn’t sound too unreasonable, but if it is true, then I would expect tax allowances to be based not on marital but on domestic status. The sacrament of matrimony is doubtlessly a great blessing to those who undergo it, but what has it got to do with taxation?

In France, of course, where they do things sensibly and logically, tax rules do in fact now take into consideration people’s domestic set-ups. Since 1999 they have had the so-called PACS law, which allows any two people living together permanently — gay couples, mothers with their spinster daughters, Laurel & Hardy — to register a domestic partnership and get the tax benefits that follow on from it. Clearly, in France they feel that the whole community benefits when two people agree to use the same kitchen and watch the same television, and that they should be rewarded for their selflessness with some tax breaks.

The Italian government keeps an eye on what its neighbors are up to and has recently tried to introduce a similar domestic partnership law, though rather more half-heartedly, and with important differences. The Italian law doesn’t allow two family members living together to register, either because family members are already dealt with in existing laws, or, as I suspect, because a French-style PACS law would open up too many possibilities for fraud. After all, we read in the Messaggero that Italy is the European country where, if you die at home of old age, you are most likely to get cut up and stored in the freezer so that your family can carry on cashing your pension. And they probably don’t want to encourage lay-about sons to live at home with their widowed mothers any more than they do already.

This Italian PACS law is for some reason being fiercely opposed at the moment by Holy Mother Church — rather surprisingly, since it is basically only a tax law and so a matter of rendering unto Cæsar that which is Cæsar’s, I would have thought. And PACS-type laws are at least one small step in the direction of some sort of fairer taxation, even if they don’t do much for the innocently single. The die-hards in the Vatican don’t want to understand this, but there are signs that the opposition from the Roman Catholics won’t be able to go on indefinitely. La Stampa has informed us that eighty percent of Italian parish priests are in favor of the new PACS law, and that more than fifty percent would be in favor of gay marriage. It is clear that the nice old gentlemen living comfortably around St Peter’s have just no idea how hard the ordinary parish clergy are finding it to make ends meet. With fewer and fewer people choosing to get married, priests’ incomes from performing marriage ceremonies are going down, and they feel they could really do with a top-up from the fees they could charge for blessing gay unions, fees which at present papal intransigence is allowing to go to the damned Protestants. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Marriage Issue, Darrel | Link to this Entry


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