Jonathan Lange: The Marriage Penalty Unjustly Penalizes The Children

Columnist Jonathan Lange says: The marriage penalty is buried in the $3.5 trillion budget bill that was recently rammed through the House.

Jonathan Lange

October 08, 20215 min read

Jonathan lange
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming’s senatorial delegation has joined 31 other senators in sending a letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader, Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Wyden (D-OR). It protested inequitable tax hikes designed to punish married people.

The marriage penalty is buried in the $3.5 trillion budget bill that was recently rammed through the House and is now the subject of feverish backroom negotiations with senators Manchin (D-VA) and Sinema (D-AZ).

“As you know,” the letter details, “current marriage penalties occur when a household’s overall tax bill increases due to a couple marrying and filing taxes jointly. A number of other federal programs, such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Section 8 housing assistance, also create marriage penalties by eliminating or reducing benefits for couples who marry.”

Astoundingly, these marriage penalties are already written into current law. That’s bad enough. What is worse, the current budget that was rolled out under the so-called American Families Plan “takes an existing marriage penalty in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and makes it significantly worse.”

How much worse? The new plan could increase the marriage penalty by 72 percent. In 2019, a couple with a combined income of $42,000 and two children would save $1,578 per year by divorcing and filing taxes separately. Under the new plan, that same couple’s marriage penalty would rise to $2,713. For this family, earning only $300 per week above the federal poverty level, over $52 per week is taken by federal income tax.

Is this what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez means by “Tax the Rich?” This is more than an inequity. It is a crime against children. When couples with children decide against marriage, the children suffer in concrete ways.

In 1990, the United Nations published the work of its Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Preamble states, “Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community . . .  the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”

Based on this foundation, Article 7 simply states, “The child shall [have] the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” All children have this right because all children have this need.

According to, an international movement for the rights of the child, “Children are wired for daily, ongoing connectivity with their mother and father and they are most likely to receive it when their parents are married.  Marriage offers the most stability in a child’s home and the best chance that both parents will be permanently involved in their lives.”

Sarah McClanahan and Isabel Sawhill published research titled, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited.” They concluded that children who experience parental breakup are affected in their “cognitive and social emotional development in ways that constrain their life chances.”

This is why the International Convention on the Rights of the Child pressed state actors to shape every policy—from direct marriage laws, to divorce laws, to tax policy—toward the singular purpose of encouraging the biological parents of every child to create a stable and loving home for that child through marriage.

This is why 33 senators wrote, “We believe marriage is a vital social good. It is misguided and unfair for the government to build bigger barriers for couples to marry.” Rather, they admonished, “Federal policy should be designed to foster strong marriages, which are the foundation of strong families and strong communities.”

Marriage is the greatest social program ever devised. For the entirety of human history, societies that successfully upheld the institution of marriage, prospered; and those that did not collapsed. For too long, we have seen debates about marriage and sexuality that focused on the desires of adults. Children were not allowed to have a say. It is time that we reversed this trend.

Wyoming should be proud that our senatorial delegation is both unified and far-sighted to speak boldly in support of marriage. In doing so, senators Barrasso and Lummis are standing for the rights of children everywhere.

As the 2022 legislative season approaches, let us hope that our state senators and representatives will follow suit. Whether discussing budgets, schools, taxation or social welfare, the rights and needs of children, not the desires of adults, should drive every law and policy. It is time to put children’s rights above adult desires.

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Jonathan Lange