Idaho Lawmakers Make It More Complicated For Gay Couples To File Taxes

Jan 14, 2014

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

A legislative House committee Tuesday approved a rule that will make it more complicated for married same-sex couples in Idaho to file their taxes. It’s a rule designed to try and appease state law, which does not acknowledge same-sex marriage, and the federal Internal Revenue Service, which does. It was a rare chance for gay Idahoans to speak their mind before lawmakers.

The Idaho Legislature is 81 percent Republican and many in the GOP oppose gay marriage. It’s not a topic that comes up often, if at all, in the Legislature, since Idaho law and its constitution both define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Gay rights advocates have tried, and failed, for eight years to pass a statewide law that makes it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Idahoans before the Legislature. Some lawmakers have spoken out on gay issues, but the public has had little chance to weigh in on the issue.

Tuesday that changed, as lawmakers considered what should have been just another mundane rule, brought by the Idaho Tax Commission. At issue is whether married gay couples can file joint tax returns in Idaho.

Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, who chairs the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, set the stage before public testimony. “This is a hearing on a pending rule,” he warned. “It is not a hearing on same-sex marriage.”

Those who testified made sure they talked about the pending tax rule. But they also took a rare chance to speak to lawmakers about gay marriage.

Tim Walsh says he has been with his partner for 10 years. They plan to travel to Washington state in August to get married. He’s worried about filing taxes next year. “Whether or not we file as married, filing jointly, or married filing singly, should be up to us, not the government,” said Walsh. “We should not be forced by the government to file as single. If members of the committee truly believe in individual freedom, if you truly believe in a less intrusive government, you could agree with that.”

Walsh says it's an issue of fairness.“If you believe in fairness under the law for everyone, please allow all married couples the freedom to choose their own filing status. Please treat all people equally under the law. Please do not place an undue burden on my family.”

Steve Martin lives in Boise and married his husband Jim Smith in Seattle after being together for 17 years.  He says the rules put an undue burden on him and his husband because they will have to complete two sets of tax forms. But he says it's more than that. “If you pass these changes, you’re telling Jim and I that our legal union is not due the same level of respect,” Martin said. “You’d be telling us that we are not equal.”

People speaking before the committee emphasized they were in long-term relationships, that they had roots in the community, and that they paid taxes just like opposite-sex couples. But despite some passionate testimony, lawmakers voted in favor of the rule that will require gay couples to fill out two sets of tax forms in Idaho.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, voted for the new rule. He says some may have individual sympathy for these cases, but he has to look first to Idaho law. “The controlling law and the State Constitution of Idaho make it clear that the tax policy should follow what the constitution and the law requires.”

Hartgen says the rule could be changed at a future date if there is a court challenge.

Four Idaho couples are suing the state over Idaho's gay marriage ban.

Republican lawmakers were joined by one Democrat, Rep. Caroline Meline of Pocatello, in backing the rules.

In the Idaho Legislature, rules work differently than laws. The tax rule does not have to get a vote from the full House and Senate to become final, but either side can start a process to reject the rules.  If no one acts against the rule by the end of the session, it will become final.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio