The Israeli parliament is considering giving gay fathers the same tax breaks as mothers in a debate that reveals some tensions among women’s rights, LGBT rights and fairness for people without children.
Israel gives parents a tax break, like the U.S.’s child tax credit, but it gives a bigger break to mothers than to fathers in an attempt to encourage women to return to the workplace. Since the parents in male same-sex couples are both men, they both receive the lower amount, and their combined credit is less than what heterosexual couples get. Over the 18 years that a child is eligible for the tax credit, a heterosexual couple could rake in tens of thousands of dollars.
Roi Mor and Eran Sikurel, two men who have a child, kicked off the debate when they demanded an equal tax break. “This is about our son’s right to an equal starting point,” Sikurel said. His statement is a reminder that while the money may be intended to help women resume paying work, it can also improve a child’s lot in life by increasing her family’s income. Research has found that higher income correlates with greater academic success for children.
As the law stands, two mothers in a lesbian relationship would receive more money than either a heterosexual or gay male couple, because they would receive double the higher women’s tax break.
True to stereotypical form, the parliament member who heads the faction that opposes giving an equal tax break to gay dads defended herself by noting that she has friends who are gay. The politician, Ayelet Shaked, claims that she opposes the proposed legislation because she opposes same-sex marriage. She has advocated changing tax regulations directly rather than adopting legislation to even out the child tax credits because she fears that a statute granting LGBT couples equality in the tax arena could pave the way to legalizing same-sex marriage by recognizing it de facto. She is not the only government official making this argument.
After vetoing the measure once, the opponents reached a compromise with backers on Tuesday December 3rd to alter the bill’s text to clarify that it is not a recognition of same-sex partnerships.
The child tax break isn’t contingent on marriage. In Israel the religious establishment controls weddings, forbids same-sex marriages, and civil marriages don’t exist, but unmarried parents can still qualify for the credit.
From a women’s rights perspective, there is good reason for the different gender-linked payment amounts: Israeli women make only 66 percent of men’s income. They are more likely to need financial help than men are; for the same reason, heterosexual couples likely earn less than male couples.
It is not surprising that the government wants more women to participate in the workforce, since only 29.6 percent of them have full-time jobs outside the home. With their lower pay, they are less likely than men are to be able to afford childcare so they can go back to work — hence the gender inequality in the government subsidy.
Meanwhile, people who choose not to have children argue that government subsidies for parents are unfair. In the United States, only about one quarter of tax-paying households receive the child tax credit. They don’t necessarily take issue with gay couples’ battle to receive the same amount that heterosexual couples do, but they do resent the fact that the break, which funnels public funds from non-parents to parents, exists at all. It isn’t likely that Israel’s Knesset will be taking those concerns into consideration anytime soon.
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