The IRS and Same-Sex Marriage

The debate on the definition of “marriage” in our society rages on and tax professionals have been confused as to its impact because how tax return elections applied to the various state and federal returns they prepared. That appears to be clearing to some degree based on a recent announcement from the Department of the Treasury and the IRS.

On August 29, 2013, following the US Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, the Treasury and the IRS released Revenue Ruling 2013-17 which states that same-sex couples who were legally married in a jurisdiction that recognized same-sex marriage at the time, will be considered “married” for federal taxation purposes. The same distinction was not extended to “co-habitating couple” or “domestic partner” designations recognized in some states.

Before the ruling was issued, a couple who was legally married under the laws of a state that recognized same-sex marriage could file as “Married, filing jointly” on their state tax return but could not file under the “married” status for their federal return. That’s now changed.

An important point in the ruling was the determination that the state where the marriage occurred is controlling. So if a couple married in a state recognizing same-sex marriage, then moved to a state that doesn’t, the couple will still be considered married on their federal tax return but not on the tax return for the state they’ve moved to that doesn’t recognize the marriage.

So while the most recent ruling provides some clarification of the Treasury and IRS positions on the matter, the debate, and the confusion about what status applies continue.

By: Evan A. Nielsen (Licensed in California)

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