Idaho wants to make gay couples recalculate taxes

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho announced rules Thursday requiring same-sex couples who are legally married elsewhere but live in Idaho to recalculate their federal taxes as singles before filing their state taxes, potentially forcing them to do more paperwork and pay more taxes than married couples of the opposite sex.

Tax Commission spokeswoman Liz Rodosovich said the agency made the changes to its 2013 income tax instructions following June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

That prompted the IRS to rule that same-sex couples who are legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages will be treated as married for federal tax purposes.

According to Idaho’s new instructions, the requirement that a taxpayer’s Idaho filing status be the same as the federal filing status “does not apply to same sex couples who file a joint federal return; the State of Idaho does not recognize same sex marriages.”

In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, an 84-year-old woman legally married in New York sued the federal government after the IRS cited the Defense of Marriage Act to deny her refund request for the $363,000 in federal estate taxes she had paid following her spouse’s death.

In the narrow 5-4 decision, the justices decided that violated her constitutional rights.

Idaho Tax Commissioner David Langhorst said his agency was required to draft rules quickly following the June 26 ruling in order to have Idaho’s instructional materials prepared for the upcoming tax season.

“That’s been the focus of our attention: What’s the best way to solve that, and make it easiest for taxpayers,” Langhorst said. “It’s not our job to divine policy. Our job is to enforce the laws on the books.”

Idaho is among 35 states that forbid same-sex unions, following a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2006.

Its new tax instructions are meant to inform people who have been legally married in one of the 14 states that allow same-sex marriages, but are required to file income tax returns in Idaho, that they may have extra bookkeeping in store before filing their Idaho returns.

There could also be financial disadvantages for some people that accompany requiring them to file Idaho tax returns as singles, as opposed to filing as a married couple.

Where only one partner has earned income, for instance, filing as a legal couple still allows them to take advantage of both individuals’ standard deductions that reduce tax liabilities.

By filing as a single, however, the person who earns income would only be able to benefit from his or her standard deduction.

Even so, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and a retired certified public accountant, said such a situation wouldn’t necessarily put Idaho’s new rule in the crosshairs of a constitutional challenge.

That’s because Idaho isn’t required to conform its tax code to that of IRS, he said, adding there were numerous examples of differences.

“Every state is entitled to make their own rules for their income taxes,” Hill said. “We can govern what our laws are, regarding our income tax code.”

Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Idaho, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

After June’s Supreme Court ruling, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he didn’t anticipate it would have much impact on state laws like Idaho’s constitutional same-sex union ban. On Thursday, Wasden said his office would provide legal advice to lawmakers and other state officials, should they request it regarding the Tax Commission’s changes.

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