IRS: LGBT couples who are married can file joint tax returns beginning next year

By:  Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate – Staff writer
Source: Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate

The Internal Revenue Service announced today that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s late June decision striking down the poorly-conceived “Defense of Marriage Act”, American LGBT spouses will be able to file joint or separate tax returns as married couples beginning next year, no matter where they happen to live.

“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” said Secretary Jacob J. Lew in a statement released by the Treasury.

“This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

The IRS will not, however, recognize domestic partnerships or civil unions, so LGBT couples living in states where full marriage equality is not yet a reality will either have to continue waiting or obtain a marriage license from a different state.

Washington, California, Minnesota, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delware and Maryland all permit LGBT couples to wed, as does the District of Columbia, five Native American tribes, and six counties in New Mexico.

Seven other states recognize some form of civil union or domestic partnership. These include Oregon, New Jersey, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Like the thirteen states mentioned above (plus the District of Columbia) these are all “blue” jurisdictions that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Sadly, none of the states that supported John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012 have taken any steps on the path towards marriage equality. Most have enacted constitutional provisions declaring that marriage is only for heterosexual couples. These states will likely remain the last bastions of inequality.

LGBT couples who have been married for a few years can choose to file original or amended returns for 2012, 2011, or 2010 if they were married in those years, the IRS said. (The statute of limitations generally permits refund claims to be filed for three years from the date that a taxpayer filed a return).

“This announcement makes today a day of celebration and relief for married same-sex couples all over America,” Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson said in a statement sent to NPI. “At long last, the IRS will treat them as what they are: married. Freedom to Marry commends the administration’s swift implementation of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling for federal equality in an area that will have a direct, tangible impact on families’ financial health.

“The fact that this new respect applies only to married couples – not those joined by domestic partnerships or civil unions – highlights the need for an America where everyone can marry the person they love in any state, and have that marriage respected at all levels of government,” Wolfson added.

On that note, we’d like to remind our readers that a campaign is underway to bring marriage equality to Oregon in 2014.

Because Beaver State voters approved a constitutional amendment outlawing marriages between LGBT couples in 2004, Oregon’s Legislature is not able to make marriage equality a reality through statute as Washington’s Legislature did last year. The only way to get it done is through a new constitutional amendment.

In a way, this simplifies things, because a change in statute would likely have been subject to a public vote via referendum anyway.

I should mention that in Oregon, unlike Washington, constitutional amendments may be proposed directly to the people via ballot measure, and require only a majority vote of the people to be approved.

We at NPI believe this to be very unwise… a plan of government should not be changeable by majority vote because a plan of government is what protects minority rights. (Of course, in other circumstances, majority rule should prevail).

In Washington, much to the dismay of Tim Eyman, our Constitution cannot be amended by ballot initiative; amendments must originate in the Legislature and get a two-thirds vote there first, then obtain a majority vote of the people.

However, until the day comes when Oregon adopts Washington’s sound approach to amending its Constitution, Beaver State progressives can take advantage of the shift in public opinion in favor of the freedom to marry by putting their own constitutional amendment on the ballot to reverse the provision adopted in 2004.

And that’s just what they are doing. Their measure is called the Freedom to Marry and Religious Protection Initiative. So far, about 72,000 signatures have been collected. Around valid 116,284 signatures are needed to place the measure on the November 2014 general election ballot alongside the contests for governor (John Kitzhaber is up) and U.S. Senator (Jeff Merkley is up).

If you are a resident of Oregon and would like to participate in the campaign, visit Oregon Says “I Do!” to learn how you can help qualify the measure for the ballot. You may also call 1-866-493-6792.

UPDATE, 3:45 PM: Senator Maria Cantwell responds to the ruling:

Today, the IRS sent a clear message: America’s federal tax system will not discriminate based on who you love. Today’s decision means that all couples legally married in Washington state can file a joint federal tax return, regardless of where they choose to live. I’m proud to have helped work in support of this decision to bring about much-needed clarity for same-sex couples across the country.

In June, we witnessed history as the Supreme Court acknowledged that same-sex couples deserve equal treatment under the law. Today, our nation took another step toward equality for all Americans. I will continue to work on the Senate Finance Committee to ensure equality in the tax code, and to make sure federal laws and regulations treat all married couples as equals.

Our thanks to Senator Cantwell for her work on the Finance Committee to improve our tax code, which has not only been prejudiced against LGBT couples to date, but also riddled with loopholes and exemptions.