Tax Day A Stark Reminder of Inequality for Many Legally Married Same-Sex Couples

by Stephen Peters

WASHINGTON – Tomorrow’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) deadline for filing taxes can be a stark reminder for thousands of legally married same-sex couples of the inequality they face if they happen to live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage. While they are able to file jointly at the federal level, tax day can be even more of a headache for these families because of the discrimination they face from their state.

“For many legally married, same-sex couples, tax day is an annual, official reminder that your home state believes your family just isn’t as good as your neighbors’,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.“Complying with the nonsensical regime of tax requirements caused by the lack of recognition of legal marriages by some states can be a frustrating, time consuming, and expensive undertaking.”

In 2014, 19 states began recognizing marriage equality for the first time.  Couples living in these states, which include some of the reddest in the nation, will have the opportunity to create only one state tax return as a married couple.  While this may sound mundane, for many married same-sex couples living in these states checking the “married” box is one thing – a relief.

Although the IRS issued a formal revenue ruling following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case recognizing all legally married same-sex couples for federal tax purposes, states without marriage equality can still discriminate against these couples on tax day.   For married same-sex couples living in states that don’t recognize their marriages, this means filing one federal return as “married” and two individual state returns as “single.”

Some of these states rely on the federal return as a starting point for the state return, requiring same-sex couples to create individual “mock” federal returns as “single” before even starting their state returns.That means a married same-sex couple living in one of these non-recognition states will be forced to create five returns each year – one federal, two “mock” federals, and two state returns.

The Supreme Court has the opportunity to end this discrimination and grant same-sex couples and their families the security that only marriage can provide.  Later this month the Court will hear oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a combined set of cases challenging the rights of states to refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.  

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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