Love and taxes: same-sex couples, joint tax returns, and marriage

Last week, Missouri became the first state that does not recognize same-sex marriages to announce that it would accept joint tax filings from same-sex couples (in Missouri, couples actually file what are called “combined returns”). The announcement came in the form of an executive order issued by Governor Jay Nixon, declaring ordering the Department of Revenue to require all taxpayers who file joint federal returns to file combined returns with the state of Missouri.

The issue of same-sex couples’ joint tax returns has been a long-running one. Prior to the United States Supreme Court’s decision this summer in United States v. Windsor, married couples who lived in states that recognized same-sex marriages and used federal tax returns as the basis for state tax returns (as many do) had to file as single with the federal government, and then prepare “dummy” joint tax returns to use on their state taxes. Now that position has been reversed, and married couples living in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage have a conflict between their federal returns, which the IRS has announced must be filed as a couple, and their state returns, which must mirror the federal returns. Some states, such as Oklahoma, have announced that same-sex couples need to file “dummy” individual returns, although that position has been challenged by taxpayers in the state.

This announcement comes only a few weeks after the Missouri Supreme Court denied survivor benefits to the same-sex partner of a Missouri Highway Patrolman. This is a rapidly changing area of law, and court cases have been filed in a majority of the states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, although as yet none has been filed in Missouri (or Kansas).

This is also a controversial issue, and the response has been quick and vocal. PROMO, a Missouri LGBT advocacy organization, praised the governor’s decision, while a state representative from Parkville has said he would bring articles of impeachment against the governor for the decision. Incidentally, today is also the 10th anniversary of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts case that was the first to recognize same-sex marriage,

Despite the governor’s announcement, no other protections or benefits are available to same-sex Missouri couples under the law. It is important for everyone to do proper estate planning, but it is especially important for same sex couples.