On August 29, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service issued Revenue Ruling 2013-17, which clarified how the Federal government would apply the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor 1 for federal tax purposes. Federal tax rights and benefits related to marriage are available only where there is a valid marriage. Currently, 13 states recognize same-sex marriage (“recognition states”), but 35 states have either constitutional amendments or legislation to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying (“non-recognition states”).
Some couples living in non-recognition states have traveled to recognition states in order to get married. In this case, the marriage is valid in the state issuing the marriage license, but the marriage is not valid when the couple returns home to their non-recognition state. Some couples were living and married in a recognition state but have since moved to a non-recognition state, creating the same confusion. It was unclear whether the federal government would recognize couples based on where the marriage license was issued (place of celebration) or based on whether the marriage is valid in the state the couple was living when they applied for the benefits of marriage (place of domicile).
Pursuant to Revenue Ruling 2013-17, the IRS will look to the state where couples celebrated their marriage. This means that for the 2013 tax year, all legally married same-sex couples for the purposes of federal tax returns (i.e. those couples who have a valid marriage obtained from a recognition state, even if they do not reside in the recognition state) will be required to file their federal tax returns together as either “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately”. Additionally, those that have a valid marriage license and are living in a recognition state may file joint state and federal returns.
However, the process for filing state returns is much more burdensome for those living in non-recognition states and is still unclear. These couples should regularly check for updates on the IRS website for guidance on this issue.
Civil unions, which are recognized in seven states, are not considered married for federal tax purposes. Civil partners must continue to file separate federal tax returns.
1570 U.S. ___ (2013)