You won’t hear many Americans express joy at filing income taxes. But it’s not difficult to understand Geraldine Artis’ happiness. Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the government would allow gay married couples to file their federal taxes jointly in every state. On hearing that news Artis said: “We’re just so overjoyed about not having to experience that negative feeling of not being a legitimate family. We’re looking forward to the experience of filing our taxes jointly and being treated as a family.”
The announcement was not that unexpected. It came in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had disallowed federal benefits to same-sex couples. Under DOMA, gay couples who lived in states that recognized their marriages could file their state taxes jointly but had to file their federal taxes separately.
Of course, the Treasury decision means gay couples in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages – North and South Carolina among them – may still have to file separate state returns even if they opt to file a joint federal return. That would create some financial complications.
But that’s of small concern to gays and lesbians, and advocates for equal rights for them. They rightly view this as a milestone worth celebrating. Wilson Cruz, a spokesman for GLAAD, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy organization, noted: “Equal federal tax protections will not only endow legally married same-sex couples with the respect and dignity they deserve, but will also provide critical financial security for countless loving families.”
Roberta Kaplan, attorney for the plaintiff in the DOMA case, predicted the decision will increase pressure on states that don’t recognize gay marriage or treat gay citizens equally “since it will become increasingly intolerable for those states to continue to treat married gay couples as second-class citizens, especially given that the IRS will now afford them equal respect and dignity under the law.”
Gay marriage opponents have the same fear. Said Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association: “There will be enormous federal pressure now on states to conform to the IRS. The Supreme Court decision placed an [improvised explosive device] under every state marriage amendment in the land. I predict we will very quickly see legal action in the 37 states that do not give legal recognition to same-sex marriage to force them to conform to federal policy on their tax forms.”
North Carolina is already headed to court for a gay rights lawsuit that will be expanded to include the state’s 2012 ban on gay marriage. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the lawsuits address this too.
Just as we lauded the DOMA ruling for overturning a law that denied gays protections the U.S. Constitution guarantees, we applaud this Treasury move. It gives gays the same federal tax benefits that opposite-sex couples receive. To conform to the high court decision, other federal agencies have already announced that they will allow federal benefits for same-sex spouses of federal workers and military personnel.
One by one, discriminatory practices and unequal treatment of gays and lesbians are being toppled. This move is among them. It’s welcome and long overdue.
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