WASHINGTON – All legally married same-sex couples will be recognized for federal tax purposes no matter what state they live in, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department announced Thursday in a change that will affect numerous couples in states that have not permitted gay marriage.
The change in policy follows the Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes such as insurance benefits, immigration and tax filings.
The new approach “provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”
Currently 13 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples who were married in one of these jurisdictions or a foreign country but live in a state that does not recognize their marriage will be able to file federal taxes jointly.
The law does not extend to same-sex couples who are in registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or other formal relationships recognized under state law.
The Treasury Department said the ruling will apply for all federal tax purposes, including income, gift and estate taxes, and all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, dependency exemptions, employee benefits and individual retirement accounts.
Individuals who were in same-sex marriages also now have the option of filing amended tax returns for the past three years to reflect their married status.
Advocates of same-sex marriage immediately cheered the decision.
“This announcement makes today a day of celebration and relief for married same-sex couples all over America,” Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement. “At long last, the IRS will treat them as what they are: married.”
GLADD, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy organization, called the ruling a move “one step closer to ‘liberty and justice for all.’ ”
But the new federal tax policy “certainly does not end the complexities that exist because we have a patchwork of marriage laws in this country,” according to Brian Moulton, legal director of the LGBT rights organization Human Rights Campaign.
Same-sex couples living in a jurisdiction that does not recognize their marriage would still have to file any state taxes separately.
And the exclusion of domestic partnerships and civil unions from the change should signal to states that those arrangements, “while positive steps for protecting those families, are not equality,” Moulton said. “We encourage states that can to finish that journey” to legalize same-sex marriage.