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Till death do we part

Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 23:09

Love it or hate it, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is going to change the lives of same-sex couples in the United States. Up until very recently, no one has known exactly how.

The portion of the DOMA that defined legal marriage as only between a man and a woman had been struck down in the Supreme Court case Windsor v. United States, but the other half of DOMA which prevents states from being forced to recognize legal same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions was left unaltered.

Could same-sex couples have access to the 1,138 federal benefits, rights, and privileges in states, which do not recognize them as legally married? After nearly three months of deliberation the federal government have revealed the details on how the recent rulings would affect one of the most important connections we have to our government. Something equally as vital to the nation, lasting more iron clad as the institution of marriage: taxes.

Last Thursday, the IRS and the Department of the Treasury announced that all legally married same-sex couples would be recognized for federal tax purposes, meaning that where the marriage was celebrated is the determining factor, not where the couple resides.

If my best friend and her girlfriend were to plan an unforgettable destination wedding to New York, San Francisco, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or New Zealand, they would be able to file their taxes as a married couple when they returned home to Huntsville. Filing taxes might not sound glamorous, but this change in tax policy is even more important than the Supreme Court cases.

First and foremost this is going to help real families in Walker County in a meaningful way. According to the 2010 census, Texas has one of the highest percentages in the nation of same-sex couples raising children and the average income of these families is generally 20 percent lower than that of different-sex married couples raising children.

Most of the time filing as a married couple results in a decrease in tax liability, according to Forbes Magazine. This lets these families retain money like their heterosexual peers already do..

Additionally, the policies of the IRS hold tremendous weight with other governmental entities, which will place enormous pressure on state governments to create similar policies. Add this new pressure to the growing wave of support shown to the LGBTQ community, as demonstrated in a 2011 Gallup Poll, recently and it becomes difficult to envision a future where further strides towards equality are not made.

Some people believe that with the effective death of DOMA, the problems regarding marriage inequality have been solved. This is not the case.

Many states, like Texas, ban same-sex couples from adopting or fostering children. Lone Star state employees can also be fired on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. People can be denied access to public facilities or accommodations for the same reasons.

This can force coming out and working to be mutually exclusive, which is hard on any family. Furthermore, couples who can’t afford to travel face a barrier obtaining a legal license. For Bearkats, the closest place to legally marry someone of the same-sex is a 12-hour drive to the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office in Las Cruces, New Mexico. That distance, compounded with the inability to share the experience with friends and family, can turn marriage for same-sex couples into more of a logistical hassle than an intimate expression of love. Making same-sex couples’ jump through these hoops simply unfair.

Despite the fact that the new tax policy still leaves the LGBT movement unfinished, it’s still a meaningful step in the right direction.

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