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This Tax Season, Equal Treatment for Same-Sex Married Couples

"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment."

U.S. v. Windsor

“In light of the Windsor decision, the [Internal Revenue] Service . . .concludes that the terms “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” should be interpreted to include same-sex spouses.”

IRS Rev. Rul. 2013-17

 

I know this might sound strange, but filing my taxes the year after my wedding made me feel more married.  I remember it distinctly—around this time of year, the W-2s arrived. My husband and I worked on the tax return together, and filed using the Married Filing Jointly status. There was something about that tax form recognition that felt weighty and real. Official.

So when the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor last June, I thought about that feeling that I had at tax time in the year after I got married. And no joke—that very thought made me tear up. Why? Simply put, Windsor was huge decision, both symbolically and practically. It provided, for the first time, federal recognition and protections for same-sex, legally married couples. Just one example of the decision’s far reaching implications: this tax season, if a couple is legally married in a state or foreign country that recognizes same-sex marriage, they are considered married for federal tax purposes. This is a welcome change from previous tax years, when, because of DOMA, same-sex married couples were denied the ability to file their federal tax returns using a married status.

And for me, it’s personal. I thought about my sister-in-law Jenna and her fiancée Steph, who are getting married later this year. They’ll file their first tax return as a married couple around this time next year, and thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor and the IRS’ subsequent revenue ruling, their first married tax return might invoke the same feelings for them that it did for me (although probably not—they’re far less strange than I am). Unlike in tax years before Windsor, they won’t have to spend extra time and money trying to figure out how to file taxes as single when in fact they are married. And they won’t experience the frustration and hurt that accompanies a tax form explaining that the federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage. Also, because they live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, Jenna and Steph won’t face any remaining tax filing issues at the state level. This is important, because married same-sex couples who live in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage—and who are now able to file their taxes as married at the federal level—will continue to face challenges in filing their state taxes.

Along with our friends over at the Human Rights Campaign, we’ve drafted some FAQs on tax filing after DOMA for same-sex married couples, and we’ll continue to update them as state level information changes. For now, I’m thankful for the strides that have been made at the federal level, and hopeful for state by state equality—in tax status and all else—very soon.    

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