WASHINGTON D.C. – While the rest of the Obama administration was cheering the Supreme Court’s overreach on marriage, the IRS’s celebration was a little more subdued. Like a lot of government officials, they knew the decision to strike down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act was about to unleash bureaucratic chaos, especially where the state and federal tax codes are concerned.
Two months later, the IRS is proving them right. Although the justices agreed that same-sex couples were entitled to the same federal benefits as married couples, they left it to the government to sort out how. Last week, the IRS took its first stab at putting some teeth behind the Court’s ruling, announcing that it would start treating legally “married” same-sex couples the same as heterosexual spouses on tax forms. If only it were that easy. Instead of clearing up confusion, Treasury officials are creating more. After all, 37 states don’t recognize same-sex “marriage,” and that’s already triggering a filing nightmare. In places like Georgia, couples could end up filing as many as three separate tax returns — one married federal return and two single ones for state taxes.
So while Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew insists his new policy “provides certainty and clear, coherent tax-filing guidance,” the end result is anything but. In reality, the administration is creating a two-tiered system that further pits states against the federal government — and not just in tax policy. The Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services are already grappling with the ruling and what its practical application should be.
Unfortunately, the Court’s ambiguity means that every agency is using a different yardstick for defining which benefits apply to whom. Medicare officials are using the “place of celebration” as the marker for benefits, while other agencies — like the Social Security Administration — are using a “place of residence” standard for processing benefits. Of course, one of the greatest ironies of the IRS’s new policy is that homosexuals are getting a taste of the marriage penalty, which for years has slapped married men and women with a higher tax rate. Now, suddenly, the media agrees – the marriage penalty is unfair.
While some of the Left’s enthusiasm for June’s decision fades in the fog of paperwork, the complexity of the issue is just now hitting states. In some places, like Texas and Mississippi, state military officials are the ones drawing the line over marriage policy. Just yesterday, the Texas National Guard bucked the Pentagon and refused to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits like ID cards and other privileges. Major General John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, made it clear that the state’s marriage law came first. If Guardsmen want to take advantage of the Pentagon’s directive, Nichols said they’d have to enroll at a federal installation. In a letter to local service members, he stood his ground on the Texas Constitution, which only recognizes man-woman marriage.
Two doors down in Mississippi, National Guard spokesman Tim Powell held the line on benefits. Like Nichols, he warned that the Magnolia State won’t issue benefits applications from “state-owned offices,” only offices on federal property. According to the Associated Press, officials in 13 other natural marriage states — including Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, and Georgia — said they’ll turn their back on state law and embrace the new policy.