Next month, legally married same-sex couples are going to be filing their taxes differently than in previous years, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has recently released a video introducing changes to the filing process, resulting from last summer’s Supreme Court decision to strike down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The most radical feature of these new tax implications is that the federal government recognizes the marriage of same-sex couples as long as they wedded in a jurisdiction that allows same-sex unions, regardless of where the spouses live now. That means that the federal government would consider a gay or lesbian couple to be legally married – and receive all the corresponding federal tax benefits – if the duo got hitched in their home state of Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal, but then had to move to Colorado, a state that does not authorize same-sex unions. The government would also acknowledge same-sex marriages performed in foreign countries that authorize such unions, meaning a married couple from New Zealand could move to the U.S. and still have their union recognized, or an American couple vacationing in Canada could get married, come home to Louisiana and be considered married by the federal government.
In the video, friendly IRS spokeswoman Michelle explains that legally married same-sex couples now need to file their federal income tax return just as heterosexual spouses do – as either married filing jointly or married filing separately. The new tax status will apply to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, such as claiming personal and dependency exemptions, receiving employee benefits and contributing to an individual retirement account. Couples don’t need to amend tax returns from previous years, but they can, using form 1040X, in case they are eligible for a refund.
The IRS has also compiled a FAQ sheet to provide further information to same-sex married couples filing their tax returns as married for the first time this year.
These changes to the federal tax law stem from the Supreme Court’s decision in the United States v. Windsor case, which overturned provisions in DOMA that barred the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples. Following the court’s landmark verdict, the Treasury Department and IRS made a ruling that legally married same-sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income, estate and gift taxes.
Because U.S. v. Windsor was only concerned with DOMA and federal tax law, state governments are not required to recognize same-sex unions: Thus, a gay couple may be considered married by the federal government but treated as single by their state, if same-sex marriage is not legal there. This dichotomy in the law will create confusion this year as some states instruct taxpayers to write their federal filing status – single, married filing jointly, etc. – on their state tax return.
Gay and lesbian married couples can learn more about filing their taxes this year by visiting the Human Rights Campaign’s online resource center or during a free webinar – “Taxes after DOMA: What do same-sex married couples need to know when filing their taxes?” – hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and the National Women’s Law Center today at 2 p.m. EDT.
Image credit: Flickr/John Morgan
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru