After DOMA was struck down in 2013, the federal government recognized marriages of same-sex couples for tax purposes, although, in violation of the Constitution, many states did not. Following the Supreme Court's watershed decision in Obergefell v. Hodges ending state-level marriage discrimination, we received questions from around the country about the income tax filing process and how Obergefell has affected same-sex couples.
Filing taxes is serious business, and everyone's circumstances are different. You should consult a qualified tax advisor to help navigate your personal filing. The following information was jointly developed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ), Freedom to Marry, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders ( GLAD ), Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ), the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ) and the National Center for Transgender Equality ( NCTE ). View the full guide at MarriageequalityFacts.org .
Q. How will the Supreme Court's marriage ruling change how much I owe in my state income taxes?
A. The Supreme Court's ruling means that states cannot purport to require married same-sex couples to "pretend" they're not married for state tax purposes. Same-sex spouses who were married at the relevant time for determining marital status for tax filings must file both their federal and state income tax returns as married ( whether jointly or separately ).
Whether a couple who gets married or whose marriage is now recognized in their home state will owe more or less for any particular tax year depends on the couple's specific situation, which may also change from year to year. A qualified tax advisor can help you calculate what makes most sense for you.
For federal income tax returns and in some states that have graduated tax rates, joint filing tends to favor married spouses with very different incomes, such as where one spouse earns little or no income and the other earns income to support the family. Joint filers in this situation will generally, but not always, owe less income tax than if they filed as married filing separately or as single ( unmarried ) taxpayers. Where both spouses are high earners, being married may result in owing more income tax than had they remained unmarried. These differences tend to be less pronounced on state income tax returns when compared with federal. A tax advisor can help you determine how getting married would impact your income tax as well as whether, if married, you would be better off filing jointly or separately.
Q. What tax-related steps might a newly married or newly respected couple consider taking?
A. If you earn wages as an employee, you may want to consult a tax advisor about whether to change your filing status and claimed allowances on Form W-4 and the state equivalent, which may affect your withholdings. It may also be important to consult a tax advisor if you pay estimated income taxes on a quarterly basis about whether to change the amount of these payments.
Q. I paid more in state taxes than I should have because my marriage wasn't recognized. Should I file for a refund?
A. Because already married couples have been filing their federal income tax returns as married persons, they may know that they have overpaid their state income taxes because the state did not respect their marital status. There are state-specific procedures for seeking a refund. We recommend consulting with a tax advisor to determine if it makes sense for you to pursue a refund claim, including assessing whether it's cost-effective to do so.
For additional IRS Resources, go to www.irs.gov/uac/Answers-to-Frequently-Asked-Questions-for-Same-Sex-Married-Couples, and http://www.irs.gov/uac/Answers-to-Frequently-Asked-Questions-for-Registered-Domestic-Partners-and-Individuals-in-Civil-Unions.
If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact Lambda Legal's Help Desk at 866-542-8336, or see www.lambdalegal.org/help.
Susan Sommer is Lambda Legal senior counsel and director of constitutional litigation.