The Single Reason This Year's Tax Season Is So Historic
It isn't often that anyone views Tax Day as a victory. For many, the mere mention of tax returns brings on sweaty palms and feelings of dread. This year, however, Tax Day brings with it a new equality milestone. The 2015 tax season will be the first time every married same-sex couple in the country can jointly file both state and federal taxes like any other married couple. This is thanks to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states last June.
Taxes are often frustrating and confusing by nature, as people grapple with understanding what forms they need, which deductions and credits apply to them, and how much they might owe. Prior to the Supreme Court's landmark decision to legalize gay marriage across the nation in 2015, however, taxes could be an especially large headache for many married same-sex couples because of the complex and changing discrepancies between state and federal filing practices.
For example, married same-sex couples living in Massachusetts — the first state to legalize gay marriage — could file their state taxes together as early as 2004, but they would have had to file their federal returns separately, and as single or head of household, until 2013. That year, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and all married same-sex couples were required to file their federal taxes as married, choosing to file either jointly or separately. Still, taxes remained far from simple for many same-sex couples.
Those who lived in one of the 13 states that did not conform to the new federal law or which banned same-sex marriage remained unable to file their state tax returns as married, despite now being obligated to file their federal returns as such. This sometimes meant same-sex couples would also have to prepare additional mock federal returns as single filers in order to complete their state tax forms.
"The entire process was so frustrating and nonsensical," Robin Maril, tax policy expert and senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, told NPR regarding the multitude of frustrations same-sex married couples often ran into in filing taxes prior to the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Couples filing both state and federal taxes jointly for the first time may, however, find themselves writing the government a larger check than initially anticipated, as their new joint status pushes them into a higher tax bracket. For many, it will be their first time experiencing what is commonly called "the marriage penalty."
Still, this year's Tax Day brings a historic milestone that can't be overshadowed by the surprise of being bumped into a higher tax bracket. Shawn Long told Time Warner Cable News in North Carolina he and his husband were excited to jointly file their federal and state taxes for the first time and experience the ups and downs of tax season in the same way every other married couple does. "One of the things that we've been left out of in so many ways, [was] the experience of being a married couple and paying our taxes."