Tax season is exhausting for many, but its burdens fall disproportionately on LGBT families, who pay considerably more in federal taxes than their heterosexual peers, according to a new study. The study, Unequal Taxation and Undue Burdens for LGBT Families, says same-sex couples not only pay more in taxes, but also suffer from a host of legal setbacks that make the tax filing process more burdensome and discriminatory. “Although most federal and state policies are designed to promote family unity, the lack of federal tax recognition for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families does just the opposite,” says the report, co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project, Family Equality Council and Center for American Progress. “It forces parents that share a home, meals and parenting responsibilities to break their family apart to file separate forms.” Because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) limits the federal government from recognizing marriages besides those between one man and one woman, even legally married same-sex couples must file separate federal tax returns. Same-sex couples, therefore, cannot receive the benefits of the “Married Filing Jointly” tax status, which means they have less money to meet the financial needs of their families.
Discriminatory state and federal laws also make it virtually impossible for two mothers or two fathers to be recognized as legal parents of their children. According to the 2010 Census, there are almost 650,000 same-sex partnered households in the United States raising over 250,000 children. Without a federally recognized marriage, these same-sex parents are often unable to claim child-related deductions and credits, particularly when the non-recognized parent is the primary wage earner in the family, according to the study. The result, the authors say, is second-tier citizenship that forces same-sex couples into a burdensome tax-filing bind: LGBT parents are required to “carve up” their families as they decide which parent will claim their children for exemptions. Other LGBT parents, the study says, can only claim their children as “qualifying relatives,” or cannot claim them at all. And, of course, tax inequalities are only part of the financial penalties same-sex couples suffer as the result of discriminatory federal law. A New York Times analysis found gay couples—due to a lack of recognition in Social Security, health insurance, tax and other benefits—incur an additional lifetime “cost” of $476,562. The solution, gay rights advocates say, is easy. As the Times writes, “nearly all the extra costs that gay couples face would be erased if the federal government legalized same-sex marriage.” The Human Rights Campaign is leading the repeal of DOMA and using tax season as a reminder that same-sex couples incur second-class citizenship through the federal law. The group issued a brief on “gay taxes” to highlight the inequalities that stem from DOMA. On Tuesday, HRC hosted a Lunchtime Twitter Power Hour, wherein they tweeted, in a constant stream, personal stories of tax inequality at House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to encourage the lawmakers to support their efforts. In an op-ed for Advocate magazine, HRC President Joe Solomonese reiterated the inequalities same-sex couples face during tax season: For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Tax Day is a painful reminder of how a lack of marriage equality across the country and the discriminatory federal Defense of Marriage Act treat us unequally and deny us the important tax advantages designed to protect American families. HRC is working to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would explicitly repeal DOMA and ensure lawfully married same-sex couples receive the same tax benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. And the group is working to pass the Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which would remove discriminatory taxation of employer-provided health benefits for LGBT families. Of course, as Solomonese writes in the Advocate, with control of the House of Representatives in the hands of anti-equality Republican leadership, change faces tough opposition. In the meantime, HRC is “calling on the IRS to do what it can today to ensure that, even under DOMA, same-sex couples clearly understand how to file their taxes and LGBT parents can fully utilize the tax advantages available for American families.”
Matt Bellassai is a spring 2012 In These Times editorial intern.