By MAJOR SHANNON McLAUGHLIN
For seven years, I have run a tax center for the National Guard. This year we will produce more than 1800 federal and state returns for service members and veterans in our community. I am very proud of this work, and I love working with the clients who walk through the door. But to be honest, every time a same-sex married couple walks in, I cringe.
Filing taxes is a dreadful enough prospect for most Americans, but for Americans who happen to be in a same-sex marriage, it’s a nightmare. While most married couples gather their receipts, W2s, mortgage interest documents, and medical and daycare expenses, same-sex married couples have to hunker down for the added prospect of producing multiple returns and “dummy” returns.
Let me explain.
I am in a same-sex marriage. My wife Casey and I live in Massachusetts, and under state law, we are required to file either “married filing jointly” (most common and usually most advantageous) or “married filing separately” for our state taxes. Those are our only options. For the purposes of federal taxes, however, because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), my wife and I are legal strangers.
So what does this mean as April 17, 2012 rolls around? My wife and I have to go through the following process:
First, we put together and file two separate federal tax returns, each filing as single people. Then, because the state requires us to file as a married couple and all state returns are derived from the federal return, we must create a “dummy” federal return in order to draw the numbers to create our state return. So, instead of one federal return and one state return like our straight counterparts, our family produces three federal returns and one state return.
Now I know all of this sounds like a lot of busy work, and some may look at it like it is only an irritation. Unfortunately, though, there are real, bottom-line financial impacts for our family and the families like ours that come to my tax center as a result of being forced by DOMA to file these separate returns. For example, if we were allowed to file jointly, since my wife stays at home with our two children, we would be able to include her as a dependent on our family’s federal income tax return. But because I am forced to file with a “single” status known as “Head of Household,” we lose thousands in deductions and exemptions. In our case, that equals well over a thousand dollars in our refund.
Then, as an extra special gift from DOMA, since my wife cannot be on my health insurance, we paid nearly $700 a month for a separate health insurance plan for her. Yet, we cannot even deduct that expense from our taxes.
So as we wrestle with our shoebox of receipts and the ticker tape from the calculator that streams down the side of the desk, Casey and I are reminded once again why this fight for equality matters. It’s time to honor all love and commitment – and all American families – on Tax Day and every day.
MAJ Shannon McLaughlin is a United States Army Major in the Massachusetts National Guard and serves as a Judge Advocate General (JAG). Her current military assignment is Chief of Legal Assistance for the Massachusetts Army National Guard. She has served for 13 years and is married in the State of Massachusetts to Casey McLaughlin. They are the proud parents of sixteen-month old twins, Grace and Grant. They are lead plaintiffs in SLDN’s landmark litigation challenging DOMA and other federal statutes on behalf of service members and veterans.