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Sunday, October 16, 2022

Gender-Neutral Text in Tax Laws

I was recently on a panel on Gender and Taxes at the Sustainability & ESG in Taxation conference in London (I was virtual from San Jose!). One of several topics we covered included me noting that the US tax law is not written in gender neutral language. It has always surprised me that there are so many uses of the terms "he" and "his". For example, the deduction for medical expense under §213 is for "the taxpayer, his spouse or a dependent." That implies that taxpayers are male. It should be changed to just taxpayer and dependent since for a married couple, both spouses are taxpayers.

Another odd one is at §446(a) on accounting methods which apply to all taxpayers but time spent with this provision will be for businesses. Yet the general rule provides: "Taxable income shall be computed under the method of accounting on the basis of which the taxpayer regularly computes his income in keeping his books."  A fix would be to change "his" to "their."

In recent years there have been bills to address gender equity in the tax law which is an excellent idea. For example, H.R. 3833 (117th Congress), Equal Dignity for Married Taxpayers Act, calls for numerous changes throughout the IRC such as replacing "husband and wife" with "married couple."  It lists out over 50 specific provisions and describes the needed change. 

Expanding this bill to also make the Code gender neutral would be outstanding (and expanding the name of the bill). In addition, the bill should require Treasury and IRS to make regulations gender neutral and specify that if that is the only change to the regulation, there is no need for public comment. The bill can include a list of the needed changes, such as change "his" to "their."

What do you think?