July 24, 2019 at 11:24 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
House approves PRIDE Act to give gay couples refund on back taxes
Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade
The PRIDE Act would make gay couples eligible for a tax refund if they married before DOMA was struck down. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. House approved on Wednesday — with zero opposition — legislation that would allow same-sex couples to obtain an estimated $67 million in tax refunds if they married before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

The legislation, known as the PRIDE Act, or the Promoting Respect for Individuals’ Dignity and Equality Act, was introduced by Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Andy Levin (D-Mich.)

The PRIDE Act was approved Wednesday as amended by a voice vote. No recorded vote was taken in opposition either by Democrats or Republicans.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who’s gay and co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, spoke out in favor of the bill on the House floor.

“Equality takes many forms,” Takano said. “It means civil, social and financial equality. This legislation directly tackles financial inequality created by parts of our tax code head on.”

The PRIDE Act would remove gendered language — like husband and wife — from the U.S. tax code. Additionally, the legislation comprises the Refund Equality Act, which would allow same-sex couples who married before DOMA was struck down to claim tax refunds for which they would’ve been eligible in the past if not for the anti-gay federal law, which barred recognition of same-sex marriage for the purposes of federal benefits.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA in 2013 as of a lawsuit filed by lesbian widow Edie Windsor, the Internal Revenue Service for the first-time allowed individuals in same-sex marriages to file jointly — potentially making them eligible for tax refund not eligible to them as single filers.

The IRS also allowed these couples to file an amended return for a tax refund for up to three years in the past: 2010, 2011, and 2012. The PRIDE Act would extend that period, allowing the IRS to provide refunds to married same-sex couples from previous years they lived in state that recognized their union.

Jurisdictions that recognized same-sex marriage more than three years before the DOMA decision were Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and D.C.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement the PRIDE Act is about “honoring our diversity and providing long-overdue justice to countless same-sex couples across the country who have been denied critical tax refunds because of who they are and who they love.”

“Advancing the PRIDE Act is a critical step in bringing our nation closer to fulfilling its founding promise that all are created equal,” Pelosi said. “As we celebrate this important success, House Democrats will continue to drive progress for all Americans, making clear that liberty, justice and equality are America’s guiding principles – not bigotry or discrimination.” 

The PRIDE Act and the Refund Equality Act would allow same-sex couples to regain from and cost the federal government an estimated $67 million, according to scoring from the Joint Committee on Taxation.

A Democratic aide said the PRIDE Act wouldn’t require same-sex couple married before the DOMA decision to file amended return, so they won’t be forced to pay additional taxes in the event they would have had to pay more — not less — by filing a joint return.

Democratic aides said the only change made to the PRIDE Act upon amendment on the House floor was the inclusion of pay-for language regarding failure to file penalties and PAYGO scorecard language added as amendments at the House Rules Committee.

The legislation now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has endorsed companion legislation known as the Refund Equality Act.

The pro-LGBT bill will likely face an uphill climb in that chamber.Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) controls the floor and is the self-avowed “grim reaper” for legislation approved the House.

Erin Hatch, a Chu spokesperson, however, was optimistic of the prospects of the PRIDE Act in the Senate.

“Given the bipartisan support the bill received in the House, we’d be very disappointed if Sen. McConnell didn’t bring it up for a vote,” Hatch said.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with McConnell’s office seeking comment on whether he’ll bring up the PRIDE Act for a vote.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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