Thursday, December 3, 2009

Filing joint tax returns for same-sex couples

Q I live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. Can my partner and I file a joint income tax return?

A The Defense of Marriage Act, signed into federal law in 1996, defines marriage as between one man and one woman, prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex couples. And since only married couples can file joint federal tax returns, all gay and lesbian couples must file federal taxes as individuals.

Most civil union and domestic partnership laws provide some benefits of marriage, but fall short at tax benefits for same-sex couples. Civil union and domestic partnership laws also vary state-by-state.

In Massachusetts, Washington DC, Connecticut, New Jersey and in some cases New York, California and Oregon, same-sex couple unions are legally recognized and therefore legally married gay and lesbian couples can file joint state taxes. The State of Washington, while allowing same-sex unions, does not allow domestic partners to file joint returns.

However, for Federal Income Tax purposes, gay and lesbian couples must still file as individuals on their federal returns for the reasons mentioned above.

Be sure to consult a tax professional before preparing and filing your returns to avoid any filing errors.