Tax break for married couples, or a transferable tax allowances between couples. These are two main options for “rewarding” a couple for marrying compared to cohabitation.
Does this discriminate couples who are not married, but maybe in a relationship? Or same-sex couples (well, until they can marry IF the law changes)? Or individuals who are not in a relationship for various reasons of divorce, death or do not feel they wish to be in a relationship with anyone? Does it discriminate? Yes and no.
The legal definition of discrimination is when:
a person is treated less favorably than someone else and that the treatment is for a reason relating to the person’s protected characteristic.
So yes, people are being treated differently based upon a legal status (that of marriage). But no, it is not a protected characteristic in the eyes of the law. But still, why discriminate again non-married couples through financial rewards?
Before we go much further, I have a confession. I am married so I biased as any tax break or transfer would benefit me financial. So I speak from that perspective but hope to give this a fair hearing, even if I do think we should reward marriage.
Society is changing, with more children are being born whose parents are not married to one another – 45% of births are now outside marriage. Numbers marrying is going down and those cohabiting is rising. Yet the stability of those who cohabit is questionable. I do not believe cohabitation is marriage by another name. This is the crux of my first point arguing for rewarding marriage – that it is a unique institution.
As a Christian I believe marriage is a covenant relationship, ordained and sealed by God, issuing in a permanent mutually supportive partnership, and sexual union, that normally includes the blessing of children. Marriage offers the stability and security that nothing else does. Divorce is high but there is something deeply profound in the invitation to be married, to be loved, is the most intimate of offers.
This stability and security stems into my second reason:
Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike
Taken from Civitas report, marriage gives a child the best opportunity in life. This does not mean single parents can not raise children. However the arugement is not over. This report from the Institue for Fiscal Studies argues that:
our findings suggest that the gaps in cognitive and socio-emotional development between children born to married parents and those born to cohabiting parents mainly or entirely reflect the fact that different types of people choose to get married (the selection effect), rather than that marriage has an effect on relationship stability or child development. On the basis of this evidence, therefore, child development does not provide a convincing rationale for policies that encourage parents to get married before they bear children.
Basically, that other factors in are in play, not the relationship status of the parents, in a child’s development. I agree, in the sense that no one factor will decide a child’s development. Yet research such as Margaret Ainsworth and John Bowlby (Re: Social Learning Theory) does show, I believe that a child’s earliest experience will continue to affect the way the child will think, feel, and act throughout its life. The experience of attuned relationships in the first years of life ensures the development of social skills and sets the stage for a positive future. And part of this is marriage, it somehow encourage better ‘conditions’ for a child’s development.
Marriage is stable, the facts do seem to provide that. This stability provides security, especially for children. This secuity provides the foundation of society. Stability and security are the foundational basis of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs of individuals, and the core of a strong society. Surely that is in the interest of all, singles and those who in a relationship yet not married, and provide the best for them. So yes, we should reward marriage to encourage a better society and reward those who are working to make society so.