When The Federal Government Tells Us to Lie
It's tax season, and once again gay married couples are caught between the truth and the law.
Each year the federal government demands that thousands of gay married couples sign an IRS Form 1040 with this stern warning: "Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true and complete." But how do you answer in good conscience when the IRS tells you to lie.
The IRS, citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), demands that gay couples deny our husbands and wives, and that we indicate our marital status as "Single." The IRS makes this demand despite the fact that numerous courts have found DOMA to be unconstitutional, and the Department of Justice has stopped defending its key provisions.
Those of us who are married should be able to indicate our marital status honestly when filling out our tax return.
Currently, there are more than 1,000 legal protections afforded to heterosexuals that are considered inapplicable to the LGBT community. Many of these significantly impact finances (real estate, inheritance and health coverage, to name a few), but it is each year, on April 15th, that all gay married couples come face to face with the inequities and indignity of having our families denied.
As more and more gay people get legally married in the U.S. or abroad, many married gay couples throughout the country are refusing to identify as "single." Quietly, from California to New York, from Alaska to Florida, couples are refusing to deny their spouses and are willing to take the risks of entering legally murky territory to take a stand.
A website called RefuseToLie.org has become a gathering place for gay couples to share their stories and for others to speak out in solidarity. While many post that they have chosen to file as married, the site also provides tax tips for those who wish to protest but don't want to risk running afoul of the IRS.
Research shows that gay people on average pay nearly $500,000 more over a lifetime due to discriminatory laws and practices. A recent CNNMoney study concluded that same-sex couples are paying as much as $6,000 more in annual federal income taxes than other married couples, even in states that recognize their unions.
For example, a married couple filing jointly who sell a home can exclude from taxation up to $500,000 of the income received, regardless of who appears on the deed. Gay couples can only exclude $250,000, the same as single filers, unless both appear on the deed. Adding a partner to a deed is considered a taxable event.
Given these disparities, legalized bigotry has certainly cost many gay families the home they dream of in a safer neighborhood, a college education for their children, or the startup money for a business.
My wife and I will once again file as married. We got married in Vermont, surrounded by 80 of our friends and family at the Burlington Quaker Meeting House. We committed, in front of our loved ones and duly authorized representatives of the State of Vermont, to love, cherish and protect each other for the rest of our lives. It would be both dishonest and deeply humiliating to now disavow each other of our marriage and declare ourselves single on our tax form.
We have an 11-month-old son, and we know that it is our actions that will teach him more than just our words. How can we raise him to be honest and have integrity in his interactions with other people if we fill out a form that denies our existence as a family?
Nadine Smith is Executive Director of Equality Florida, the largest civil rights organization in Florida dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.