On June 26th the Supreme Court overturned a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor v. United States. This opinion held that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional because it deprives same-sex married couples of equal treatment under the Fifth Amendment. So what kind of tax consequences does this have for same-sex couples? The IRS hasn’t officially weighed in on this yet other than providing this curt statement on their website:
We are reviewing the important June 26 Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. We will be working with the Department of Treasury and Department of Justice, and we will move swiftly to provide revised guidance in the near future.
In simplest terms, the federal government, including the IRS, must now treat same-sex couples who are legally married the same as their heterosexual counterparts. Therefore, married same-sex couples should now be allowed to file a joint tax return and take advantage of various estate planning provisions that have traditionally been available only to heterosexual couples.
It is impossible to determine how many same-sex married couples will file amended tax returns in hopes of getting a refund. Not all people benefit from filing jointly, and not everybody wants to file jointly, even if there is some financial benefit. According to IRS rules, those that do see a benefit may go back only three years seeking refunds.
There are still several unanswered questions:
- What happens when couples marry in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but then move to a state that does not recognize it?
- Will same-sex marriages be considered valid for federal tax purposes retroactively?
- Will civil unions be treated as marriages for federal tax purposes?