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Sat., Oct. 5, 2013

Editorial: Idaho wrong to align tax laws against same-sex couples

For those who don’t understand why same-sex couples can’t be content with formal arrangements short of marriage, the Idaho State Tax Commission provided another reminder.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Internal Revenue Service responded by saying it would treat gay marriages the same as any other for tax purposes, Idaho Tax Commissioner David Langhorst announced Thursday that this won’t be the case if such couples reside in Idaho.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, states have had to scramble to write rules for the upcoming tax season. Said Langhorst, “That’s been the focus of our attention. What’s the best way to solve that, and make it easiest for taxpayers?”

His answer: The way it’s always been done.

Except that isn’t easy for couples who have gotten legally hitched in other states. They now need to file jointly on the federal level to lower their tax burden, and as individuals on the state level, which raises their tax liability. This is especially true if one person in the couple makes significantly more than the other. Traditional couples can file jointly on both levels, meaning less paperwork and greater benefits.

Langhorst may not have had much choice because the state passed an amendment to the state constitution that in retrospect looks downright spiteful. While the federal DOMA barred same-sex couples from marriage, the Idaho “super-DOMA” also prohibited civil unions, domestic partnerships or any arrangement that could extend the same benefits to gay couples while “protecting” marriage. This gained the two-thirds majorities needed by the House and Senate and was passed by voters.

So an “everything but marriage” law, like the one that passed in Washington state, would be unconstitutional in Idaho. If that doesn’t drive home to gay marriage opponents why equality is so important, then, perhaps, a different type of discrimination will.

Up until 1982, there was a clause in the Idaho Constitution that prohibited members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from voting, serving on juries and holding office. As the state Human Rights Commission said in 2006, “It took almost a century to get all of the discriminatory language removed from the Constitution.”

Yet, in endorsing the super-DOMA, the Legislature, including many Mormons, added more discrimination to the constitution. Now, lawmakers should nullify this language by passing an amendment to the constitution and putting it on the ballot, so that all Idaho citizens can be treated the same under state laws.

While opponents of gay marriage are fond of citing Scripture, there is no spiritual support in denying equal treatment under the law when it comes to filing taxes or myriad other activities. The state has even eliminated the avenues taken by other states – civil unions and domestic partnerships – to extend equal rights without granting the right to marry.

That’s just mean.

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