IN THE CONSTANT SEARCH for contemporary American heroes, I would like to nominate Angela and David Boyter who have, at last count, been married three times and divorced three times -- each and every time either to or from each other. They are not, as you might guess, two dizzies who have a hard time making up their minds. They are instead involved in that noblest of all pursuits -- sticking it to the IRS.

This is not something you do casually. In my limited experience, the Internal Revenue Service comes down to a hefty lady behind a steel desk who does not smile and who, during an audit, talks to you the way you have not been talked to since the third grade. I was tempted to ask for the bathroom pass.

But the Boyters have persevered. What they are doing is contesting the ill-named 1969 Tax Reform Act, which was designed to reduce the tax advantage married persons had over single persons. Before 1969, it was axiomatic that it did not pay to live in sin because two single persons paid more in taxes than a married couple. After 1969, this was no longer the case. In fact, the way the government worked it out, a married couple could pay more in taxes than two single people living together. This is the price of virtue.

And this is what the Boyters are protesting. They had been taking their vacations at the end of the year in places like Haiti where they slipped off -- had in hand, you imagine -- to get a quickie divorce. In that way, they would file their taxes as two single persons, saving themselves enough money to pay for the vacation. A better way to make a protest I can't imagine.

The IRS has called the whole thing a sham. They say the Boyters, both of whom work for the government and earn something like $30,000 apiece, owe Uncle Sam about $3,100 in back taxes. At the moment, everyone involved is fighting it out in court and it ought to be obvious to everyone that whatever money the Boyters saved with their divorces will now go to their lawyers. They are in it for the principle of the thing, and in this they are on the side of the angels.

It is wrong, simply wrong, for people to be penalized for being married. There's just no equity there. But more than that, it's bad social policy. Everytime I go for the mail, I pick up press releases from the president's commission on this or that, most of them having to do with the family. This administration, in particular, is constantly shouting hosannas to the family. Jimmy loves it and Rosalynn loves it and the Congress loves it, and it was the president himself who had to remind his staff that they should not neglect their families in pursuit of peace on earth and zero-based budgeting. Talk, it turns out, is cheap.

What is apparent is that the American family is changing -- maybe coming apart at the seams. The statistics aside, this is something you can see all around you. Every time my son brings home his class list, there are more and more single parents listed and more and more "parents" with two different names. Divorce is common. Living together is common. Everything is common but stable, long-lived marriages.

No one is going to argue that the difference between marriage and divorce is a tax deduction. It isn't. But the deduction is symbolic of a government that talks one way and acts another -- of a failure to recognize that the family is in trouble and some of the trouble is simple economics. Just the simple matter of more and more women working has not been taken fully into account.

There is not nearly enough in the way of day care available, and there is no real recognition yet that the full cost of this ought to be deductible. If a salesman can deduct his car as being essential for work, why then can't a family deduct day care? Without it, one of them -- the mother or the father -- would have to stay home.

There would be something wrong if the government got into the business of making moral decisions when it came to how people "couple -- whether they choose to marry or not marry. But there is nothing wrong in making a policy decision that families are good and essential, that they are good for children, for crying out loud, and that the family could use some help. It needs some support systems, something more than sweet sentiment and homilies from politicians. At the very least, it ought to have the same standing as the Chrysler Corp.

So here's to the Boyters, a little toast to them for standing up to the government, for fighting for fairness and for the family. They were married once, but they're not anymore. The government came between them.