Bill allows married gays to file joint taxes

Legislation comes on heels of Supreme Court decision

Vic Vela
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, listens as Lauren Fortmiller, center, and her partner Pamela Thiele, both of Lakewood, testify in support of Senate Bill 19. The bill would allow gay married couples living in Colorado to file joint state tax returns.

A bill that would allow married gay couples living in Colorado to file joint state tax returns is on its way to a vote in the state Senate, after it passed a legislative committee on Jan. 14.

However, Senate Bill 19 applies only to married couples, not those who are involved in a civil union, which became legal in Colorado last year.

Senate Bill 19 requires that gay couples who married out of state or in another country, and who now reside here, file their state taxes the same as they do at the federal level, either through joint or individual returns.

That's regardless of the fact that Colorado does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, a bill sponsor, told the Senate Finance Committee that the bill aims to do away with confusion on the part of legally married gay couples who can file joint tax returns federally, but were not able to do the same at the state level.
"The reason I've introduced this bill is because we have confusing issues in the statute," Steadman told the committee.

Steadman's bill passed the committee, following a 3 to 2 party line vote.

The bill comes on the heels of a July Supreme Court decision that struck down much of the Defense of Marriage Act. Since then, the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that legally married same-sex couples are also considered married for federal tax purposes.

The federal ruling applies to all gay couples who are in legally recognized marriages, even if they reside in states like Colorado, which has a constitutional ban against gay marriage on its books.

So, if a gay couple gets married in New York, then moves to Colorado, they can file joint state returns here.

However, the IRS is clear that only legally married gay couples can file joint returns.

"The revenue department ruling expressly says they are not recognizing civil unions, or other domestic partnerships," Steadman said. "This is purely a matter of who is married."

Even though the legislation would not affect couples involved in civil unions, the bill would make changes to an area of last year's law that created civil unions in Colorado. The civil unions statute does not allow for joint tax filing.

"That's because it was not possible for same-sex couples to file federally (when the civil unions bill became law)," Steadman said afterward. "It did not allow for linkage for state taxes. And that was absolutely accurate when it was written. But the whole world has turned on its head since them."

The bill also makes language in Colorado income tax statutes gender neutral. It replaces "husband, or wife or both" with "two taxpayers." And it replaces "spouse" with "taxpayer."

The bill cleared the Finance Committee, with Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver, Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City voting yes.

Republican Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Kevin Grantham of Canon City voted against moving the bill forward.

Michael Norton of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group that is opposed to gay marriage, called the bill a "subterfuge," which provides an end-run around the state's gay marriage ban.

"The people of Colorado have decided what the policy of the state of Colorado as it pertains to marriage," Norton said.

The bill would benefit couples like Lauren Fortmiller and Pamela Thiele of Lakewood, who married in California in 2008. Fortmiller told the committee that prior to the Supreme Court decision, she, like all gay couples, could only file federal taxes separately.

"It was always painful, year after year, to check that box saying we were single when we are not," Fortmiller said.

Thiele concurred with her partner's sentiment.

“After all the 45 years we have worked for equality and justice, after all the sadness and anxiety, being asked this year, finally, honestly and openly, to check the 'married filing jointly' box on a Colorado state form will be a thrill,” Thiele said.