How can you be married and not married at the same time?

Written by scott on March 20th, 2014

The time of year for all good citizens to focus on their federal and state income taxes has returned. As usual, tax taxesforms are due to the IRS by no later than April 15. Even if you file for an extension on the payments, the paperwork is due to the government by the third Tuesday of April this year. While most married opposite-sex couples will have no issues filing their taxes, same-sex couples face many obstacles. In states that have marriage equality, such as New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware, the matter is a simple one. File your income taxes as a married couple, filing either a joint return, or separate single returns, depending on your own unique circumstances. As a result of the US Supreme Court ruling in the US v. Windsor case last year, all legally married, same-sex couples living in states which honor such marriages can file their income taxes in the same way as opposite-sex couples.

However, if you happen to live in Pennsylvania or one of the other 33 states which does not allow marriage for same-sex couples, you will need to file your returns differently. First, file your federal return as a married couple, again deciding whether to file a joint return or two separate returns based on your unique circumstances. You will then need to file two separate forms for your state and local taxes as a single taxpayer. I realize that the numbers will be a mess, and filing for financial aid for college will become a nightmare without some guidance. Nevertheless, that is what the law proscribes.

With all that said, a suggestion was sent in to ME4PA to consider. Many people file their income taxes online using programs from TurboTax, H&R Block, and other companies. If you complete your own tax forms, and you file online, your federal information will carry over automatically to your state return. I found this to be true when working on my own taxes. The computer asked to whom I am married, but did not care about the gender of the person to whom I am married. In fact, the computer is not going to run a background check on my marriage license to determine its validity. As long as the names on the forms match the Social Security numbers, all is right in the world. So if Pat and Lou are getting married, that could be two women, two men, or one of each. The government would not know unless it conducted an audit. However, the chances of an audit are incredibly small; furthermore, the federal government will already recognize as married, a same-sex couple who marries in a state such as New York or New Jersey. In both those states, the marriage licenses and certificates do not denote the gender of the couple. Hence, the computer has no way of knowing for sure who is really married to whom.

Before acting on this idea, I strongly encourage consulting a qualified tax adviser or lawyer. Still, just because you are in a same-sex relationship in Pennsylvania or any other state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, does not diminish the fact that your marriage certificate deserves to be recognized, whether you are two men, two women, or one of each. No matter what choice you make on your taxes, just remember, file by April 15.


Leave a Comment