NEW YORK -- April 15 marks a deadline that few Americans look forward to -- and same-sex couples in particular have reason to dread.
This year, same-sex couples will file joint tax returns in more states than ever before: in the five states where gay couples have the freedom to marry, as well as in a handful of other jurisdictions that provide some relationship recognition, including California, Oregon, and New Jersey.
However, because of the federal discrimination enacted under the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, no same-sex couples will be permitted to file their taxes with the IRS as what they are: married.
DOMA excludes same-sex couples from the more than 1,000 federal responsibilities and protections of marriage and from the common practice and expectation that a valid marriage in one state is generally recognized by others.
Of course, every family is different, and generalizations can only go so far, but there are a few elements of federal marriage discrimination that consistently harm same-sex couples and their families - which becomes glaringly so on Tax Day:
Because gay couples still lack the freedom to marry in most states, many companies are not obligated to provide health insurance for an employee's partner, even if they offer health coverage to all married spouses of their employees. So the cost of health insurance for same-sex couples is often a lot higher than for heterosexual couples. What many people don't know is that when companies do provide coverage for an employee's same-sex partner, that partner's coverage is taxed as additional income. Heterosexual couples, on the other hand, do not have to pay taxes on spousal coverage.
As with non-gay couples, filing as a married couple would affect same sex-couples in various ways - for some, taxes would decrease and for others, they would increase. What is clear, however, is that under current discriminatory federal law, same-sex couples are treated differently. They are not permitted to file as a couple, and in addition to the indignity of being forced to falsely identify as "single," this often imposes financial burdens on them and their family.
Financial planning and estate taxes
Different-sex married couples can share unlimited assets with one another during their lives and upon death without paying estate taxes. In the eyes of the federal government, however, for same sex-couples these day-to-day transactions, as well as the transfer of earnings upon death, are taxable "gifts," as if among strangers. Same-sex couples often end up spending far more on financial planning to protect their families and their assets. Navigating the complicated tax code as a gay couple is no simple task, and because of federal marriage discrimination, gay couples often spend thousands of dollars on professional advice and coping strategies to protect their families.
And needless to say, the harms and economic burdens that the denial of marriage brings fall hardest on the most vulnerable, including people who are ill or of lesser means.
"For gay couples, as for non-gay couples, marriage is about much more than money and financial security,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry. “Same-sex couples build lives based on love, commitment, dedication, and self-sacrifice, and share the joys and, yes, do the work of marriage. But at this time of year, the economic injustice of exclusion from marriage is impossible to ignore. Especially in these rough economic times, government has no business putting obstacles in the paths of committed couples seeking to take care of their loved ones and their families."
The White House and the Department of Justice have conceded that "DOMA" is a discriminatory policy and should be repealed. A number of challenges to the federal anti-marriage law are making their way through the courts, including cases brought by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But Congress also has the authority to repeal this infamous law and, Wolfson said, "should heed President Obama's call to dump DOMA and end federal marriage discrimination now."
In September 2009, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal "DOMA," was introduced in the House of Representatives, and already has more than 100 co-sponsors.
Freedom to Marry is building support for the bill because, Wolfson said, "it's time to end federal marriage discrimination and make Tax Day a little less painful and a whole lot fairer, for American families."
About Freedom to Marry
Freedom to Marry is the leading campaign working to win marriage nationwide. They partner with organizations and supporters across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from the responsibilities, protections, and commitment of marriage.