"Big Love" is getting a lot of attention.
Naturally, TV critics are always looking for the next HBO breakout show to fill the void that will exist when the "Sopranos" are all whacked out.
But the prurience potential of a show about a fictional polygamous family in present-day Utah is also getting a lot of mainstream coverage and prompting related "news" stories. The latest example: On this Sunday's Weekend Today Show, Lester Holt interviewed a real-life husband and wife and wife.
I'm sitting there in bed waiting to see what Holt, an affable TV personality, might offer on this subject that I hadn't already heard.
Unfortunately, not too much.
Every question was basically a rehash of every previous "investigation" of polygamous relationships: how did it happen, do you get jealous, what have you told the kids?
I soon found my tax brain taking over and my frustration growing.
"I don't care what their sleeping arrangements are!" I yelled at Lester. "How do they handle their taxes?!"
Think about it. Three people, three jobs, six kids, one house. There are a lot of tax breaks to be had here. Who gets them? Who gets stiffed?
- Do the guy and his first missus file a joint return?
- Does the concurrent second wife file as single?
- Or does she claim some of the kids she shares with the man she, but no legal entity, considers her husband and file as head of household?
- What about benefits at work? Does one of the wives have to get her own health care coverage while the other two "spouses" get cafeteria plan benefits at their jobs?
- Beyond taxes, what kind of estate planning do they have? Since they all depend on each other's participation in the larger-than-normal nuclear family, have they taken steps to make sure the other two are taken care of if something happens to one of them?
The tax and financial possibilities, and problems, boggle the mind. Even in "normal" situations there are issues. Witness this year's new uniform definition of a child, created in part to help taxpayers deal with today's changing family structures and child rearing approaches.
And if money is the leading cause of divorce, is the failure factor for polygamous arrangements multiplied by the number of people involved?
Realistically, polygamy and its possible tax implications aren't going to be a big concern for U.S. taxpayers. It was a topic across the pond a couple of years ago when British Muslims asked the United Kingdom's Inland Revenue department to consider recognizing -- or, as the Brit's spell it, "recognise" -- polygamy in the cases of followers who take up to four wives under sharia, the laws derived from the Koran. You can read more about it in this London Times article. Apparently, and not surprisingly, the effort didn't make much headway.
But Americans continue to grapple with other nontraditional pairings, notably gay marriage and civil unions for gay couples. Marriage efforts have been repealed or stymied, but Vermont and Connecticut have legalized civil unions between partners.
Those state's tax departments also have made official adjustments for such relationships. Vermont civil union couples may file a joint return or separate state tax returns in the same manner as married couples there. Connecticut officials have rejiggered withholding tables so that partners in a civil union will have the appropriate amount of state income tax taken from their paychecks.
On a national scale, what might gay marriage mean to U.S. taxes? A couple of years ago, Virgina Postrel took a look at that in this article. She cites one study that indicated "an annual increase in federal government income taxes of between $0.3 billion and $1.3 billion, with the likely impact toward the higher range of the estimates."
As for the partners themselves, Postrel says gay couples would face the same marriage penalty or bonus issues that federally sanctioned male-female taxpayers deal with.
Which makes the words of Kinky Friedman, the singer, songwriter, mystery novelist and Texas gubernatorial candidate, seem right on target: "I'm for same-sex marriage because I believe gay men and lesbians have the right to be as miserable as everyone else."