The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced on Thursday that they would treat legal same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual marriages for federal tax purposes.
The new policy, which comes in response to a June Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, allows same-sex spouses to file tax returns as married couples regardless of whether they live in jurisdictions that recognize gay unions.
Same-sex couples reacted to the announcement with relief on Thursday. “We’re just so overjoyed about not having to experience that negative feeling of not being a legitimate family,” said Geraldine Artis, who lives in Connecticut with her wife and two teenage children. “We’re looking forward to the experience filing our taxes jointly and being treated as a family.”
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement that the move “assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”
The new policy will only apply to legally married couples, and not to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships recognized by certain states.
Same-sex couples married before the DOMA ruling will have the option of filing amended returns for one or more prior tax years, according to the announcement.
Other federal agencies this year have announced similar decisions relating to the Supreme Court ruling, allowing federal benefits for same-sex spouses of federal workers and military personnel. But those policies affect only a subset of the gay population, whereas Thursday’s announcement impacts virtually every same-sex couple in the United States.
“The IRS is an agency that people tend to interact with more than other federal agencies, so it’s going to make a big difference in the lives of same-sex married couples,” said Brian Moulton, legal director for the Human Rights Council.
The policy change announced Thursday also relates more directly to the Supreme Court decision, which involved Edith Windsor, a woman who was denied the federal spousal exemption to the estate tax when her wife died.
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