Point of View

In NC, same-sex couples are married 364 days a year

March 31, 2014 

In October 2013, when the N.C. Department of Revenue released a tax directive for the state’s legally-married, same-sex couples, barring them from filing a state personal income tax return under the status “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately,” it sent a strong message: On the day you file your state tax return, your marriage does not count.

In doing so, this new tax policy turned its back on simple, fair and transparent federal laws that allow married, same-sex couples to file jointly – with all of the requisite veracity of a “married” status – regardless of where they live.

The failure to issue uniform guidance for all legally married couples in North Carolina has resulted in months of unnecessary confusion and complication. And while preparing and paying for our taxes is a burden shared by all, because of North Carolina’s policy, some but not all legally married couples living within our borders face what can only be described as an undue burden: unfairly penalized this tax season, they cost themselves, and potentially the state itself, more economic harm than good.

But you don’t have to take these married couples’ word for it. Certified public accountants and other tax professionals have borne witness to these harms, in this and other states such as Virginia and South Carolina, which have followed North Carolina’s inequitable lead. They’ve shared that these policies force married, same-sex couples to file six forms for every two from other married couples, with filing costs amounting to as much as four times the amount of traditional fees.

If paying, for example, $400 to file your taxes this year versus $100 last isn’t argument enough of an undue burden, CPAs themselves, many of whom are small business owners, are also reporting a significant burden to bear. If they have not already lost business – facing frustrated couples who would rather go it on their own than eat the extra costs of filing with a professional – they deal with many of the same questions and confusion directed at the N.C. Dept. of Revenue moving forward. Will you require married certificate documentation for some couples and not others? Will you force CPAs to constantly keep track of marriage laws in other states? Will you provide continual guidance to tax professionals as marriage laws change?

And what of other infringements? We’ve heard from many faith leaders and faithful North Carolinians who are giving voice to a rising tide of religious objections to policies that force them to subvert their married status, lie on their state taxes and in doing so bear false witness in contravention to their strongly held beliefs.

But it didn’t have to be this way. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order directing the Missouri Department of Revenue to accept the jointly-filed state tax returns of all legally married couples, including same-sex couples legally married in other states.

That limited recognition means even though Missouri doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry (in fact it has a constitutional marriage equality ban almost mirroring the scope of ours in North Carolina), the state was able to provide an uncomplicated tax solution for legally married couples: no new taxes.

By doing so, Nixon kept Missouri’s tax policy clear and uniform for all legally married couples in his state and avoided the confusing and costly result that unfairly targets legally-married, same-sex couples that we’re seeing in ours.

It was Gov.Pat McCrory’s failure to follow suit which prompted hundreds of North Carolinians to sign petitions demanding changes to North Carolina’s tax policy and why Equality NC will launch #Married364, a 15-day campaign designed to ask the important question: shouldn’t marriage count every day of the year? In partnership with bordering state equality groups South Carolina Equality and Equality Virginia, the online effort will feature same- and opposite gender couples, as well as LGBT and allied individuals, who stand in solidarity against laws, directives and policies that would subvert their marriage status.

The campaign will culminate in coordinated, multi-state events on tax day, April 15, including one in Raleigh, designed to raise the voices of those who oppose these types of inequitable tax policy.

Because like taxes, the fight for equality includes everyone.

Chris Sgro is executive director of Equality NC.

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