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Same-sex couples who are married can file jointly for federal taxes, but they face a confusing and complicated set of state tax laws.
Attorney Carol Calhoun has put together a comprehensive summary of how state tax laws work for same-sex married couples.
As Calhoun explained in an email to Here & Now:
Nine states have no income tax, or have tax systems that make no distinction between married and single filing status. Of the rest, 14 states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage and require married same-sex couples to file as married. Illinois is allowing same-sex marriages in some counties but not otherwise until June 1, but will nevertheless require same-sex couples who are married in Illinois or elsewhere to file as married. Oregon recognizes same-sex marriages from other states and requires same-sex married couples to file taxes as married, even though same sex marriage is not legal there. Three states that do not otherwise recognize same-sex marriage nevertheless require same-sex couples married elsewhere to file as married, while 22 states require same-sex couples to file as single or head of household, even if they are legally married.
Calhoun told host Robin Young that the situation is “a mess in a couple of ways. We think of it primarily as to the couples themselves, but it also affects their employers.” She calls it “an administrative nightmare” in addition to being a burden on the couples and their employers.
Calhoun says the issue will likely make it back to the Supreme Court, but in the meantime she has some advice for same-sex couples: First, look at your state’s authorities and what they have said about whether you can file jointly. Second, look at court cases that are coming up, because the law in your state may change.
Calhoun is also reminding same-sex couples that under some state laws, they may actually pay higher taxes as a married couple.
Finally, she warns: “One trap for the unwary is that if you are a same-sex couple who lives in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage, you can never get divorced. So you may therefore discover that you are required file taxes jointly with a spouse from whom you are legally separated, who may be living with someone else, who you may not even have any contact with. The situation is extremely complicated.”