By Lisa Keen
Would you be willing to make a pro-gay statement on your federal tax returns if you knew it could throw up a red flag that could get you audited?
That’s the dilemma facing more than 8,000 lesbians and gay men in Massachusetts this year, gays who got married in the state after a state supreme court decision went into effect last May, saying that the state constitution entitles them to the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples. Now, as a result of their marriages, they are legally bound to identify themselves as married on their state tax returns, while the Internal Revenue Service is bound by federal law to treat them as single.
At a recent tax seminar sponsored by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lillian Gonzalez, a professional tax preparer who helps more than 650 individual clients navigate through tax returns each year, was also on hand to help them think through the legal and political ramifications of their taxes.
One question was easy: When filing their state taxes, they can and must indicate that they are married, and same-sex married couples are treated the same as heterosexual married couples under Massachusetts law, so spouses can choose to file jointly or separately.
But every question about filing federal returns seemed to get increasingly more complicated.
On federal returns, married same-sex couples in Massachusetts are expected to indicate that they are single. They are also expected to sign a statement at the bottom of the tax form claiming that, “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, correct, and complete.”
GLAD, the group which led the legal fight to attain equal rights in marriage in Massachusetts, says there are “numerous non-tax-related ways tax returns are used,” such as when applying for a mortgage. At its tax forum and on its website, GLAD is advising same-sex couples married in Massachusetts to check off “Single” on their federal tax return but to include a cover letter and a copy of the marriage certificate with the tax return.
“Filing in this way,” notes GLAD in an article on its website, “could be crucial for purposes of proving the existence of the marriage in the numerous non-tax-related ways tax returns are used.”
Gonzalez says she has completed returns for about 10 or 12 of her same-sex couple clients thus far this year and that only one couple has chosen to make some kind of designation of their marriage on their federal form. The reluctance of the others to do so, she says, is a matter of personal preference.
“I’m absolutely for making political statements, even if there is some possible repercussion,” says Gonzalez, “but I don’t know that providing additional information in a federal tax return will provide any meaningful statistics. Personally, when it comes to the IRS, I prefer to give less information than more.”