Category Archives: politics

Provo: Welcome Home (Unless Single)

The city of Provo, Utah, has undertaken a campaign to reduce the number of single people living in its boundaries, to limit the number of singles living in existing housing, and to prevent additional housing for singles from being built.

It’s not too far off from singles-cide.

Imagine if this were done to any other group—Catholics, Asians, lesbians, etc. How would it look for a city to have an explicit policy of limiting and reducing the numbers of Catholics, Asians, or lesbians in its borders? It would be an outrage.

But somehow when it comes to unmarried individuals, it’s accepted, enshrined in city ordinances and state and federal law. Somehow discrimination against single people is seen as okay.

Well, it isn’t okay. It’s wrong. We’re people, too. Adults. Productive employees. Contributing members of congregations and communities.

In fact, over half of American adults are single.

Most of us get that marriage has a stabilizing effect on society. In fact, most of us would love to be married. But the reality is that people are getting married later—staying single for longer. And yet we’re treated like our equal right to housing and employment isn’t valid, simply because we aren’t married.

This needs to change.

Provo, for example, defines zoning restrictions that limit households consisting of singles to no more than three adults. Married people face no such restrictions—as long as people are related by blood or marriage or adoption there can be as many adults as they can cram in the house—plus up to two completely unrelated individuals. But when the household consists only of single adults (plus dependent children if any) the limit is a firm three individuals. The justifications given for this difference are thus:

  1. Singles in the neighborhood make for fewer friends for the married folks’ kids.
  2. Singles in the neighborhood all have cars and lead to an overflow of available on-street parking, potentially preventing emergency services and garbage services from doing their job.
  3. The ability of landlords to charge rent to numerous singles drives up rents for married families.

Somehow parking and the desire for playmates for children and the hope for cheaper rent are used as a justification for discrimination. But 1) is using legal measures to drive single people out of the neighborhood really going to help your kids? It’s unlikely to lead to more households with kids—just fewer singles living in the households that they already live in. 2) Couldn’t parking be addressed directly such as granting limited on-street parking permits to homeowners? And 3) rents are so high because the city isn’t approving new housing for the people demanding it—singles! Were the housing market allowed to operate without these marital status considerations, that problem would have already solved itself by now.

I spent a while looking into whether Provo City is violating the Utah Fair Housing Act by defining zoning restrictions in terms of marital status. It turns out that the Utah Fair Housing Act never mentions marital status, but prohibits discrimination on the basis of whether one is caring for children. Provo’s code is careful not to discriminate on the basis of whether children are present, but willfully discriminates on the basis of marital status.

And so it would be unlikely for a legal case to go anywhere, given the current law.

This is the real problem: that in an era when age at first marriage has increased substantially and there are more singles as a proportion of the population than ever, it’s completely legal in Utah and in most states for individuals and governments to discriminate on the basis of marital status.

It’s wrong.

It needs to change.

Let’s change it. Now.





An American submits his 2017 tax return to the IRS. Err, nevermind, this is from the Netherlands in 1640. (Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The tax collector’s office)

There’s a reason why every year I put off filing my taxes until almost the last possible moment. I usually just chalk it up to my ingrained habit of procrastination, and I’m sure that’s at least part of the story. But the real reason is that paying taxes in the United States is a nightmare.

Repeated TurboTax upsell attempts. Adding up all my Internet purchases so I can pay the Utah state “use” tax (a tax on _using_ things). Navigating a maze of credits, deductions, and ridiculous economic situations I’ve never even heard of but that could land me in hot water if I misunderstand. Did I sell that stock? Was that checkbox checked? Is this box greater than this box plus that box? This is freaking 2017. This whole thing should be automated. An algorithm. You know—computers doing calculations for us, executing well-defined rules for us _so we don’t have to._ Instead every American once a year spends hours and/or a bunch of money on this dance, searching for ways of clawing money back from the government. This isn’t taxation by rule of law—it’s taxation by incomprehensible bureaucratic procedure.

There should be one way to calculate your taxes, something well-defined that a computer can do for you. Something so transparent and straightforward that the IRS just says “You owe this much and this is why” and you say “Yup, that looks right” and click “Pay” or “Refund” and bam, you’re done.

But instead the tax prep industry and Grover Norquist alike lobby congress to keep the whole thing a mess so the status quo will continue: you’ll pay exorbitant sums to make somebody do your taxes for you, and you’ll hate hate hate taxes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. What if it was simple, understandable, and easy? What if it was clear that you were paying your fair share, and that everybody else was, too, and instead of a manual, form-filling, mind-boggling nightmare that mashes 1950s technology with all the worst of 2010s porkbarrel politics, we had a straightforward, sane, modern tax system we could even say we were proud of?


2017 you guys.



Photo: John Murphy. CC-BY-SA 2.0.

It’s like a fire.
It burns,
The anxiety, the fierce desire
To preserve this reserve
Of liberty
To maintain the promise
The magic
The myth
Of us as one people
Of government for us
And by us
And of us.
Oh let it not perish
From the earth.
Let not our times
Be the times
When all that blood
In all that dirt
Cries out our failure against us.
Let not our days
Be the days
When the golden age fades
And the light that they left us
Casts its last ray.
No, let it not
Be in our days.

That is the fire.
That the desire.
Let the flame burn higher.
Higher and higher
Even be it now
But a tiny spark.
That’s all it takes.
That’s how it starts.