April 13, 2005

"Married gays feel boxed out by IRS tax forms."

That's the headline for this article, which reports that some couples are checking "married, filing jointly" based on a marriage recognized at the state level.
Gay-rights advocates, however, warned gay couples against inviting the wrath of the IRS by filing their taxes jointly as married people if the status means they will end up paying less in taxes to the government. Better, they say, to file as singles or to calculate their taxes a couple of ways — single and married filing separately, for example — and then submit the return that forces them to pay the most.

"Even if you're wrong in the end, you don't face the consequence of underpaying," said Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle attorney who sits on the board of Lambda Legal, a national gay-advocacy group. "You're not in the position of owing back taxes, interest and penalties. And it keeps you on the moral high ground, showing that you're willing to undertake the obligations that go along with marriage."
That's awfully harsh advice! It seems to me that if you're paying less as a single taxpayer and federal law defines marriage not to include yours, you should just follow the federal law and save money. Is that unprincipled?

UPDATE: The non-harsh, important part of that advice is not to choose "married filing jointly" if that gives you lower taxes than single, because you'll be underpaying within the standards of federal law and subject to penalties.


JK said...

Paying taxes is the definitive way the federal government recognizes the existence of an individual or married couple. I'm willing to bet that because of this even though a gay married couple may pay more in taxes by filing jointly, they want that recognition. And if they have to pay more for it, they will. At this point it isn't about the money so much as about recognition of their relationship.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm sympathetic to gay couples who want equal advantages, but until they get them, they don't need to punish themselves by taking on disadvantages that the federal law actually excludes them from. I think a lot of heterosexual married couples who have had to fork over the "marriage penalty" would have been only too glad to have the government give them the option to file as "single." How much government approval do people really want?

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