During the runup to the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, one number kept recurring: The government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages meant gay couples were denied more than 1,000 federal benefits that straight couples enjoy. Now that the justices have struck down DOMA, gays can look forward to equality under U.S. tax laws. That is, just as soon as the Internal Revenue Service can figure out how to make equality happen. The tax agency has promised to “move swiftly” to recognize gay unions, but for many couples it won’t be as simple as checking the “married” box on their 1040.
Those living in Washington, D.C., or the 13 states that allow same-sex marriages can file a federal tax return next April just like other married couples. Not so for the thousands of gay couples who took their vows in one of those states but who live in one of the 37 others where same-sex marriage isn’t recognized. It’s not yet clear whose definition of marriage the IRS is supposed to follow in evaluating their taxes—the state where the couple got married, or the one in which they reside. And will the federal government recognize gay couples in civil unions who file a joint return?