Originally published on Advocate.com October 28 2003 12:00 AM ET
A same-sex couple from Berkeley Heights, N.J., who obtained a civil union in Vermont three years ago are seeking a court ruling that would allow them to file a joint state income tax return in New Jersey. However, a tax court judge told George DeCarlo and Ryan Reyes on Friday that they would have to pay a filing fee and resubmit their complaint before its merits could be addressed. The two joined in civil union in August 2000 in Putney, Vt., one month after the state's landmark law went into effect giving same-sex couples all of the statewide rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage through a parallel legal institution. Civil union couples in Vermont may file their state income taxes jointly as married heterosexual couples do. However, New Jersey does not allow the practice. Its law requires taxpayers to use the same filing status they use for federal income tax filing. "New Jersey is linked by law to the federal tax laws, which do not recognize this form of filing, and we are bound by federal policy," said Tom Vincz, a spokesman for the state Department of Treasury.
DeCarlo and his partner say they want the same opportunity married couples have to determine, based on their financial circumstances, whether it's better to file separately or jointly. However, they also feel the state's position on tax returns reflects a greater issue. "I think it's the most glaring example, as far as the state of New Jersey is concerned, on being recognized as legal strangers," DeCarlo said. The couple, who first complained to state tax officials two years ago that New Jersey tax forms do not have a check-off category that accurately reflects their relationship, said they plan to refile their complaint. They said they had not paid a fee because it was not clear which amount applied to their dispute. "We have every intention to file a joint tax return for this year," said DeCarlo, 45, who along with his partner is running for the state legislature this fall as a Green Party member.
DeCarlo and Reyes face other procedural issues in their case. The state has moved to dismiss their complaint on the basis that DeCarlo and Reyes missed an earlier deadline. In a separate case currently pending in Mercer County, N.J., the gay rights group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund has sued New Jersey on behalf of seven same-sex couples seeking the same civil benefits afforded to married heterosexual couples.