April 15th – Tax Day Not So Gay in Michigan

April 15 - 2The Same-Sex Couple Income Tax Purgatory in Michigan

Tax day — nobody likes it, other than CEOs living handsomely off the largess of Gov. Snyder’s legacy of corporate tax cuts. But, one class of Michigan citizenry remains considerably more burdened than most.

Legal status is everything.

Even the most honest folks could land in tax limbo, and potentially subject to a double dose of audit scrutiny if they’re wed outside of the current GOP dictum of one man and one woman. Yes, gay couples in Michigan find themselves in an income tax purgatory, particularly those married under quasi-hit-and-miss laws across the nation that are not recognized by the state.

There are two categories of same-sex couple taxpayers caught-up in the conflict between federal and state tax laws this year — the 300 gay couples that are legally recognized by the state of Michigan, and those married outside of that select group.

The Internal Revenue Service instructs that married same-sex couples may file a joint income tax return even if they are living in a state that refuses to acknowledge their status, such as Michigan, where the state tax code directs them to file separately:

Mich tax book on joint return

Source: 2014 Michigan MI-1040 Instruction Booklet

The tax booklet doesn’t address the 300 same-sex couples with legal status who presumably are allowed to file jointly in Michigan, and the treasury department doesn’t even know who those couples are.  They are indistinguishable from the unknown multitudes married outside of that brief window when the state allowed same-sex marriage, or those legally wed in another state.

John Lindstrom, the Publisher at Gongwer News Service, explains that the Michigan Department of Treasury has opted to ignore the problem altogether and further refuses to entertain any questions on the topic. Lindstrom blogged about his frustration as a journalist:

Nor will it be discussed, at least not on the record by any officials at the Department of Treasury. Or on background by them. Or for that matter, even off the record. Probably the best anyone could do in getting a response is a type of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-know what I mean” shrug of the shoulders and uncomfortable clearing of the throat when the question is posed.

Lindstrom ponders two more salient questions. How would the state be able to identify a same-sex couple’s joint return in the first place, given the form does not inquire as to the gender of the taxpayer, in a world of myriad non-gender specific names? And, the second concern should spark the interest of fiscal conservatives — in Lindstrom’s words:

Does the state spend time and taxpayer money trying to determine which of the several million joint returns filed may be filed inappropriately by same-sex couples who are not authorized to file said joint returns?

Or, Michigan could just get with the times and recognize that a marriage is a marriage. It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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