Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tax Time Deliberation: Married or Not?

As married, heterosexual couples across America pull out their tax forms in the last minute rush to file by April 14th at seconds before midnight, same-sex couples are slapped in the face one more time with their second-class citizenship.

No one enjoys tax time in this country. We have a long, complicated and intricate tax code that requires a degree to fully understand. What form do you use? Which box do you check? What are legal deductions and can you count the gift to your mailman as a charitable contribution?

“Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes,” Benjamin Franklin famously said.

For same-sex couples, however, there is an additional layer not only of confusion but also of denied rights. Are we married or aren’t we? I live in Massachusetts. I’m married but only in this state. I must file separately to the federal government. On the federal form, do we divide the dependants between us? Do I get two of the kids and my wife one? Or does it make sense for her to claim all three? Who gets the mortgage interest deduction?

It was easy for Franklin to be so certain. He wasn’t a gay man married in Massachusetts in the last four years.

HRC has launched a campaign, “7 Days to A Better Financial You,” to highlight the “significant financial burdens and legal hurdles” for same-sex couples and their families. Our social security benefits are not transferable. Life insurance must be carefully designed. Inheritance of any kind is out of the question without a significant tax burden.

The list goes on and on. Same-sex couples are urged to get sound tax and legal advice. Julie Goodridge, of NorthStar Asset Management, Inc. a firm that balances clients’ social and political concerns with their financial objectives, advises her same-sex clients to be prepared on as many levels as possible. “Gay and Lesbian couples need elaborate documentation around their relationships and children- health care proxies, powers of attorney- in order to ensure basic financial health. Even in Massachusetts.”

Heterosexuals get to say, “I do.” All done. No additional legal work required, if a spouse dies, everything is transferred without tax or question. You check the “married” box. The government definition of their marriage is powerful insurance.

How many people filing the basic 1040E tax form have the resources and financial ability to hire a LGBT issue savvy attorney, consult a tax accountant, and write up a series of documents? How many people understand the new provisions of the Pension Protection Act of 2006? Or how to offset the tax burden of domestic partner health insurance?

Goodridge adds, “There are significant additional costs in planning for estates and even then there are no guarantees their family of origin will not legally challenge their final wishes.”

Great. After spending a bunch of additional dollars, you still might end up buried next to Aunt Martha and your partner thrown out of the home you bought together.

I’m not talking about a revolution. I’m not trying to give reason for a swarm of locusts to descend. I’m married, I live in Massachusetts and I want to file my taxes.

Sometime before midnight on April 14th.

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Blogger Sue J said...

I have found that a lot of people I talk to about same sex marriage do not think about the financial ramifications of it all. It's not until they know someone personally who has gone through a death or serious health issue that they understand how devastating this could be.

People are so wrapped up in the ceremonial, religious aspects of marriage that they forget the day-to-day civil realities of it.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Seda said...

Great post, Sara. I don't understand why anyone cares who their neighbor marries, anyway. I mean, so what? Render unto Ceasar, y'know? Marriage before the state is a legal contract, not a sacred contract. Folks are already making the sacred contract in some churches, and in others never will be able to, and that's just fine. But it's totally unfair and ridiculous that some folks can make a legal contract and others can't make the same one, just because of who they want to make it with.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Louie said...

Every single income tax paying American should be forced to do their own taxes. Only then would they realize, first hand, how crazy and out of control our tax code has become. Assuming that an income tax on our LABOR is even legal to begin with!

Back to reality: Yes, life for my husband and I would be so much simpler if our "marriage" were legally recognized on the state and federal levels.

But really, our tax code is atrocious!

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