Same-sex couples legally married in other states but living in Idaho must file state income taxes separately, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee said Jan. 14.
The House Revenue and Taxation Committee made the decision Jan. 14, over objections this rule would be a drain on gay couples’ pocketbooks and show Idaho doesn’t respect their unions.
Republican lawmakers were joined by one Democrat, Rep. Caroline Meline of Pocatello, in backing the Idaho State Tax Commission’s rule, effective for the 2013 tax year.
The House tax panel’s majority concluded Idaho law recognizing only marriages between a man and a woman and its 2006 voter-enacted constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages required them to exclude gay couples from filing joint state returns.
“While we may have individual sympathy for the situations that are presented by these cases, it seems to me that we should look first at the Constitution of Idaho and then the statutes,” said Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls.
Under current law, married Idaho residents who file joint federal income tax returns must also file joint state returns.
Same-sex couples living in Idaho but legally married in 14 states that allow such unions will still be able to file joint federal taxes, according to an Internal Revenue Service decision last year following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in June invalidating parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
With this new Idaho tax rule, however, those same couples now must recalculate their federal taxes as individuals before filing state returns. At the Jan. 14 hearing, same-sex couples described the impacts that filing separately would have on their finances and lives.
Gary J. Peters said he and his spouse couldn’t benefit from tax provisions otherwise afforded married couples who contribute to traditional Individual Retirement Accounts.
Nikki Tangen and Becca George, of Boise, face additional hurdles filing returns that reflect their joint businesses, bank accounts, two children and four college funds. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year, Tangen was hoping to finally simplify her filings.
The new Tax Commission rule ends those hopes.
“If we’re forced to complete two separate federal tax forms to comply with Idaho rules, we’ll be spending even more money and still not reflecting our true financial status to the Idaho Tax Commission,” Tangen said.
Others said limited-government, Republican-dominated Idaho has no business singling out groups for additional burdens.
“Denying legally married same-sex couples the freedom to choose their filing status protects nobody, and places an unconstitutional burden on those couples whose taxes also pay your salary,” said Tim Walsh, of Boise.
Phil Skinner, Idaho deputy attorney general, said it wasn’t that simple, given Idaho’s existing laws defining marriage, its 2006 gay-marriage ban and last year’s Supreme Court ruling, which left states in charge of regulating marriage. Accordingly, state tax commissioners merely crafted policy reflecting the will of voters and lawmakers, he said.
The commission “had no choice other than to go with what the Legislature dictated,” Skinner told lawmakers, adding absent a sweeping new court decision, states such as Idaho can define marriage how they want and enact tax laws that follow suit.
In fact, Idaho’s tax rule – and the hardships its foes say it creates – has already been singled out as one basis for an ongoing constitutional challenge filed in November in U.S. District Court in Boise seeking to topple Idaho’s gay-marriage ban.
Other states with same-sex marriage bans have come to different conclusions than Idaho when deciding this same issue.
In November, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told state tax officials to accept tax returns jointly filed by same-sex couples legally married elsewhere.
Oregon has similar provisions.
Not following suit, said Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, puts Idaho on the wrong side of constitutional history.
“It’s pretty obvious to me… this is a denial of equal protection,” Burgoyne said.
Updated at 3:25 Jan. 14 with more details.