Niagara Gazette

March 27, 2013

Tax law adds burden to newly married gay couples

By Macintosh Barker
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Tax season can be a burden for anyone, but same-sex couples are facing some extra challenges thanks to a controversial federal law.

The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, prohibits same-sex marriage from being recognized at the federal level. So even though a couple may have legally married in New York, they are required to file separate federal taxes as if they were two single individuals. Understandably, this can create some headaches.

“I think it’s a little confusing now, that on a state level we’re recognized and on a federal level we’re not,” said Niagara Falls resident Tina Galyn, who married her wife Andrea in 2011. “DOMA enshrines inequality in federal law among our citizens.” 

One Buffalo-based business saw these challenges and is offering assistance to those who need it. Heidi Jones and Terry Mickelson run Allen Street Consulting, which offers both business and individual tax preparation services. “We understand this is complicated and is impacting our community, and want to make sure our friends and family are properly prepared for this complication,” said Jones.

“A same-sex couple gets married in New York, and they have to file a New York state married filing joint. However, to create a New York state tax return, you have to file a federal return to base it on, so the couple has to draft a fake federal return, and use those numbers to create a New York return.” In addition, Jones stated that New York’s tax laws can differ significantly from the federal process.

DOMA means that same-sex couples may have to shell out much more than their heterosexual counterparts in taxes owed. “We had a client last year where we drafted the fake federal return, compared the liability to the two individual (federal) returns, and there was a $1,000 difference,” said Jones. “I really do encourage folks to consult a professional who can handle the complexity,” she said.

However, the whole process might be much simpler for New Yorkers in 2014. A law challenging the constitutionality of DOMA has reached the Supreme Court, who is expected to hear arguments today regarding state and federal laws restricting same sex marriage.

“I would like them to decide that DOMA is unconstitutional” said Town of Niagara resident Marvin Henchbarger, who is also the executive director of Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York. She says the law sends the wrong message to the youth she works with. “I’d really like to have our young people not have to go through self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence issues that many adults in my generation had to because of the anti-gay sentiment,” she added.

In addition, Henchbarger, who was married to her partner Laurie Dean Torrell in 2010 in Connecticut, hopes the federal court will declare DOMA unconstitutional. 

“I want to be an equal US citizen. Immediately. I don’t want to wait years,” she added.