Tax day unfair to gay couples, study says

Fri Apr 9, 7:30 PM ET

Eric Johnston, Gay.com / PlanetOut.com Network

SUMMARY: A new survey released this week revealed that gay and lesbian couples have a particular disadvantage because they are prohibited from filing joint income tax returns.

With the April 15 deadline for filing income tax returns approaching, a new survey released this week revealed that gay and lesbian couples have a particular disadvantage because they are prohibited from filing joint income tax returns.

"Same-sex couples pay more in taxes and get fewer protections and benefits in return," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (news - web sites) (NGLTF), which conducted the study.

The study looked at gay couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex couples will be allowed to marry beginning next month.

One couple profiled in the report was Thorsten Behrens and Christopher Schiebel.

If they get married, the state of Massachusetts will allow Behrens and Schiebel to file joint state income tax returns, however they will continue to be barred from filing joint federal returns. According to Forbes.com, filing federal returns jointly can save some couples "a bundle."

Aside from tax benefits, the NGLTF says there are 1,137 other federal protections associated with marriage. Unmarried same-sex couples also are significantly shortchanged on estate taxes, gift taxes and Social Security (news - web sites) benefits, to name a few.

For example, Behrens and Schiebel are raising Schiebel's two children from a previous marriage, and Behrens is the main breadwinner. According to the study, if the couple were married and Behrens died, Schiebel's Social Security benefit would be $18,396 per year. But as an unmarried couple, the benefit would be less than one-fourth that amount: $3,636 per year.

The NGLTF report will be used to urge members of the Massachusetts Legislature to kill a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would prohibit same-sex marriage but leaving the door open to civil unions.

"Civil unions are no substitute for full equality," said Sue Hyde, a field organizer for the NGLTF.

Prohibiting same-sex couples from marring may also deprive the wedding and travel industries of a windfall. Forbes.com estimates gay and lesbian couples would spend $16.8 billion on wedding ceremonies and honeymoons, benefiting caterers, banquet halls, jewelers, department stores, travel agents, hotels and airlines.