On Tax Day, millions of Americans – at least after midnight – can take a deep breath after poring over receipts and W-2s and navigating a dizzying array of forms and numbers, deductions and credits. As we assemble our returns, we are all reminded of the costs of everyday life, like how much we spent on health insurance for our families and put away for the kids’ college fund. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Tax Day is also a painful reminder of how a lack of marriage equality across the country and the discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act treat us unequally and deny us the important tax advantages designed to protect American families.
According to the 2010 Census, there are nearly 650,000 same-sex couple households in the United States – 150,000 who identified themselves as married – and they are raising more than a quarter of a million children. In the majority of states, same-sex couples are not legally recognized, and in many places both partners cannot legally be parents to their children. Even those gay and lesbian couples who are lawfully married in the growing number of states that recognize marriage equality are treated as strangers by the federal government because of DOMA.
The cumulative impact of state and federal discrimination is acutely felt by the LGBT community every day – both because it denies who we are as people and families, and because it makes it much harder, if not impossible, to provide the security for our loved ones that other families take for granted. On Tax Day, we are reminded of both of these attacks on our dignity as American taxpayers and hardworking families.
First, simply filing their federal income taxes — already a confusing process for many Americans — costs many LGBT Americans more time, expense and frustration than their heterosexual neighbors. Because of DOMA, even lawfully married same-sex couples are asked to declare themselves “unmarried” to file their federal income tax returns – after filing state returns as a married couple — under penalty of perjury. Many LGBT taxpayers go to professional tax preparers or use commercial tax software in order to figure out how to file and ensure that they are following the law. Adding to the burden of discriminatory laws is the lack of clear guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for our community. Even tax professionals may not know how same-sex couples should file or what deductions they can and cannot utilize. As a result, even LGBT taxpayers who do their best they may still face fines and penalties from the IRS if they err in the preparation of their returns.
Second, discriminatory laws bar same-sex couples and their children from tax advantages designed to protect hardworking American families. There are nearly 200 provisions of the federal tax code that turn on marriage, and because of DOMA, even lawfully married same-sex couples are not treated as spouses for any of them. As a result, same-sex spouses cannot file jointly, and therefore may be denied the tax advantages of joint filing and pooling deductions. Transfers of property, gifts and inheritances between same-sex spouses are taxed. Even the health insurance benefits provided by a fair-minded employer for a same-sex spouse or partner are treated as taxable income, costing the average same-sex couple over $1,000 a year in additional taxes. A same-sex partner who cannot legally serve as a parent to his or her children may be unable to make use of tax advantages – like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Care Tax Credit, and others – designed to help families. In short, discrimination is costing each LGBT family thousands upon thousands of dollars every year in extra taxes.
As we fight to add more states to the marriage equality column, the number of American taxpayers facing these problems will continue to grow. HRC is pushing Congress and the administration to take the steps necessary to protect these hardworking families. We continue to press for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal DOMA and ensure that lawfully married same-sex couples are treat equally under federal law and have access to the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as other married couples – including at tax time. HRC is also working to end the unfair taxation of health benefits for LGBT families through the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, legislation strongly supported by corporate America. And with control of the House of Representatives in the hands of anti-equality Republican leadership, we are calling on the IRS to do what it can today to ensure that, even under DOMA, same-sex couples clearly understand how to file their taxes and LGBT parents can fully utilize the tax advantages available for American families.
JOE SOLMONESE is president for the Human Rights Campaign. He is also a co-chairman of President Obama’s reelection campaign.