Same-sex couples who get a marriage license in a state that has redefined marriage to include same-sex couples, but who live in a state that does not recognize their marriage, will be treated as a married couple for federal tax purposes, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday.
The change in tax policy came after the U.S. Supreme Court this Summer struck down a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act that says marriage will be defined as the union of one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law.
The decision left unclear what it would mean for same-sex couples who married in one state but live in a state that does not recognize their marriage. It was left to the executive branch to decide many details about how the Supreme Court's decision would be implemented. Thursday's ruling, therefore, was the executive branch's clarification of the issue.
"Today's ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a press release. "This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change."
The ruling will apply to any part of the tax code that recognizes marriage. Civil unions, though, will not be recognized for tax purposes.
Same-sex couples can choose to, but are not required to, file an amended return for 2010, 2011 or 2012, and may receive a refund. Beginning with their 2013 tax filings, same-sex couples with a marriage license must file as either "married filing jointly" or "married filing separately."
The ruling does not apply to state taxes. So, a same-sex couple that has been married in a state that has redefined marriage, but lives in a state that has not redefined marriage, would file as married for their federal taxes and as single for their state taxes.