Tax season is an annual reminder of the problems caused by the absence of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.
The tax process for gay couples can best be described as a convoluted mess that sheds light on how truly bizarre the current state of relationship-recognition is. If you were legally married in Massachusetts, but you live in New Jersey (which has civil unions), are you able to file your state taxes jointly? If you received a domestic partnership in Washington, but you now live in Connecticut, are you technically married? If you were married in Canada and then weren’t allowed to get married in California (because you were already married), are you still recognized as married in California in the post-Prop 8 world? These various permutations clarify how ridiculous it is to have different marriage laws in different states, and they show the clear need for federal marriage equality.
If you are legally gay married (or some variation on the word), you should check with your state tax laws, but chances are that you and your spouse will be filling out four tax returns. First, you need to pretend that the federal government legally recognizes your love as you fill out your joint federal return. This is literally called a “dummy” return, because you are not going to file this return. Instead, you are going to use it to inform the numbers for your joint state tax return. Then after you fill out your state return, you need to forget that you are married and pretend you are single again as you file individual federal tax returns.
Somewhere in Canada (which has full marriage equality), Avril Lavigne is looking toward America and singing “Why you gotta go and make things so complicated?"
This absurd tax charade is the precise embodiment of how separate is most definitely not equal. It is sickening to think about all of the time, energy and money spent on creating separate systems for gay and lesbian couples. It's almost enough to make you want to join the tea baggers ... though, I'm not sure they would welcome us.
Filling out extra forms is unfortunately the least of the differences between how straight married couples and same-sex married couples fill out their taxes. There are significant differences in how shared property, bank accounts, children and gifts need to be reported. I am not an accountant, so I won’t pretend to be an authority on the details, but The New York Times has a comprehensive look at the nitty-gritty differences that same-sex couples need to be cognizant of. If you have a specific question, The Times has also provided a tax expert to answer questions from same-sex couples.
Photo credit: alancleaver_2000