IRS to recognize gay couples, regardless of state measures

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WASHINGTON -- All legally married same-sex couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of whether the state where they live recognizes the marriage, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service said Thursday.

The federal rules change is one of many stemming from the landmark Supreme Court decision in June that struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling found that same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits, but left open the question of how the federal government would actually administer those benefits.

"Imagine a pair of women who marry in Albany and then move to Alabama," dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia wrote at the time of the decision. "May they file a joint federal income tax return? Does the answer turn on where they were married or where they live?"

As of the 2013 tax year, same-sex spouses cannot file federal tax returns as if they were single. Instead, they will have to opt for filing as "married filing jointly" or "married filing separately." The location of their marriage -- as long as it is legal -- or residence does not matter: a same-sex couple who marry in New York and move to Alabama will be treated the same as a same-sex couple who marry and live in Massachusetts.

"Today's ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax-filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. "This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country, knowing that their federal filing status will not change."

The Treasury said the ruling applies to "all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit."

The ruling applies to all legal marriages made in the United States or foreign countries. But it does not extend to civil unions, registered domestic partnerships or other legal relationships, the Treasury said.

Same-sex spouses will be able to file as married couples for the 2013 tax year, the Treasury said, and will also be able to file amended returns for certain prior tax years, meaning that many couples might be eligible for refunds.

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