2014 will be the first time married gay couples file federal taxes together in the United States. It’s been a decade since Massachusetts became the first state to start granting marriage licenses, and some states previously accepted joint returns for state taxes; a few couples even got an filing extension last year and were able to submit their returns together in the fall. But until the Supreme Court struck down the federal prohibition against gay marriage in The United States v. Windsor last summer, the Internal Revenue Service didn’t recognize joint returns for married same-sex couples.
For some, this April’s tax season will be a time to celebrate the progress of the gay-rights movement. But for most couples, it will be also be a huge headache.
In gay-marriage recognition states, “thanks to the Windsor decision, doing tax returns for same-sex married couples is much easier now,” said Joan Zawaski, an accountant in California who is also in a same-sex marriage. “Married is married, we just file joint returns just like other folks. But in non-recognition states, it’s back like the battle days.”
This is because many states are refusing to accept joint returns from married gay couples, even if they were legally married in another state. Usually, states piggyback off of the IRS on tax returns—people fill out their federal returns and then use that information to fill out state returns. But since many non-recognition states aren’t following the IRS’s decision to accept joint returns from same-sex couples, their revenue departments have had to devise new ways to figure out how to collect the right amount of money from married same-sex couples. In some places, this means gay men and women have to fill out multiple forms, sometimes saying they’re married, sometimes saying they’re single. Other states have created brand new forms, just for gay couples.