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Tax Day's Here, Time to Dump DOMA

Tax Day's Here, Time to Dump DOMA


It's April 15, and you know what that means: tax day. It's a deadline that few Americans look forward to -- and same-sex couples in particular have reason to dread.

This year same-sex couples will file joint tax returns in more states than ever before: in the five states where gay couples have the freedom to marry as well as in a handful of other jurisdictions that provide some relationship recognition, including California, Oregon, and New Jersey. This is cause for celebration -- and a demonstration of the important progress we've made in the marriage movement. However, because of the federal discrimination enacted under the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, no same-sex couple will be permitted to file their taxes with the IRS as what they are: married. DOMA harshly excludes same-sex couples from the more than a thousand federal responsibilities and protections of marriage and from the common practice and expectation that a valid marriage in one state is generally recognized by others.

In an October 2009 article on "The High Price of Being a Gay Couple," TheNew York Times investigated the financial burdens that exclusion from marriage imposes exclusively on same-sex couples. The Times estimated that for a same-sex couple with two children and an annual income of $140,000 a year, the added lifetime cost of being gay ranges from $41,196 to a staggering $467,562. The bulk of these costs are a result of being denied marriage -- and the Social Security, income tax, and estate tax treatment that come with it. The Times concluded, "Nearly all the extra costs that gay couples face would be erased if the federal government legalized same-sex marriage."

Of course, every family is different, and generalizations can only go so far, but there are a few elements of federal marriage discrimination that consistently harm same-sex couples and their families -- glaringly so on tax day:

Health care: Because gay couples still lack the freedom to marry in most states, many companies are not obligated to provide health insurance for an employee's partner, even if they offer health coverage to all married spouses of their employees. So the cost of health insurance for same-sex couples is often a lot higher than for heterosexual couples. What many people don't know is that when companies do provide coverage for an employee's same-sex partner, that partner's coverage is taxed as additional income. Heterosexual couples, on the other hand, do not have to pay taxes on spousal coverage.

Income tax: As with nongay couples, filing as a married couple would affect same sex-couples in various ways -- for some, taxes would decrease, and for others, they would increase. What is clear, however, is that under current discriminatory federal law, same-sex couples are treated differently. They are not permitted to file as a couple, and in addition to the indignity of being forced to falsely identify as "single," this often imposes financial burdens on them and their family.

Financial planning and estate taxes: Different-sex married couples can share unlimited assets with one another during their lives and upon death without paying estate taxes. In the eyes of the federal government, however, for same sex-couples these day-to-day transactions as well as the transfer of earnings upon death are taxable "gifts," as if among strangers. Same-sex couples often end up spending far more on financial planning to protect their families and their assets. Navigating the complicated tax code as a gay couple is no simple task, and because of federal marriage discrimination, gay couples often spend thousands of dollars on professional advice and coping strategies to protect their families.

And needless to say, the harms and economic burdens that the denial of marriage brings fall hardest on the most vulnerable, including people who are ill or of lesser means.

For gay people, as for nongay, marriage is about much more than money and financial security. Gay couples build lives based on love, commitment, dedication, and self-sacrifice, and share the joys and, yes, do the work of marriage. But at this time of year, the economic injustice of exclusion from marriage is impossible to ignore. Especially in these rough economic times, government has no business putting obstacles in the paths of committed couples seeking to take care of their loved ones and their families.

The White House and the Department of Justice have conceded that DOMA is a discriminatory policy and should be repealed. And a number of challenges to the federal antimarriage law are making their way through the courts, including cases brought by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But Congress also has the authority to repeal this infamous law and should heed President Obama's call to dump DOMA and end federal marriage discrimination now.

In September 2009 the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, was introduced in the House of Representatives, and it already has more than 100 cosponsors. Freedom to Marry is committed to building support for the bill -- and we need your help. Together we can make tax day an opportunity to educate our friends, neighbors, and lawmakers about how marriage discrimination harms same-sex couples and their families. Visit Freedom to Marry's online Action Center to contact your lawmakers today and tell them how DOMA hurts gay couples, their families, states like Massachusetts, and our country's basic fairness. It's time to end federal marriage discrimination and make tax day a little less painful -- and a whole lot fairer -- for more families.
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