It’s Tax Time: How Will You Account for Your Family?

By Lavender April 10, 2008

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Have you filed your taxes yet? If not, you don’t have much time. If you did, which relationship status box were you able to check? Despite being in long-term committed relationships, Minnesota same-sex couples have only one option: “Single.”Checking “Single” is degrading to each and every same-sex couple who have made a life-long commitment to one another. It’s also an important reminder that discrimination exists across the full spectrum of our laws—from emergency situations (health care decisions) to the seemingly mundane (taxes). Yet, the effects of this discrimination on Minnesota families are real and significant.If you flip through Minnesota Statutes, you’ll find that same-sex couples cannot file jointly even if they are living together as one economic unit. Laws also require tax exemptions to be based on marital status.“In a society committed to fostering strong families, our government should be providing the same financial support for Minnesota’s same-sex coupled families—not penalizing them,” Mike Cassidy, a Minneapolis Certified Financial Planner and Income Tax Specialist, says. “Single-income, same-sex coupled families generally pay more income tax than their straight counterparts. This is just not fair to those supporting loved ones or raising children.”Project 515 is dedicated to raising awareness of the 515 Minnesota Statutes like those mentioned above that provide rights and responsibilities for married couples, but don’t for same-sex couples in long-term committed relationships.We’re committed to helping Minnesotans understand the effects of these laws on families. Once they realize our laws can be changed to treat all people the same, we can help the Legislature catch up, and do the right thing—treat same-sex families with the same dignity and respect given to families of married heterosexual couples.Many examples exist of how Minnesota’s tax laws negatively impact same-sex couples and their families. In most instances, the negative consequences cross over into other areas—including health care.Shannon was pregnant with twins, and fell so ill that she no longer could work. She was unable to qualify for insurance on her partner’s insurance plan, so she applied for medical assistance, which was available only because she was pregnant. After the twins were born, and her health improved, the couple more closely examined domestic partner benefits available through the employer of Shannon’s partner.Benefits were available to Shannon and to the children, but the costs were extremely high. Not only would the amount paid for Shannon’s coverage have been taxable, but also the employer’s contribution would have been taxable as well. In addition, the plan considered the children Shannon’s, so taxes would have been withheld on contributions for their insurance coverage, too. The combination of costs made it impossible for Shannon and her partner to afford.Their only recourse would have been for Shannon’s partner to file an affidavit at the end of each year to prove the children were legally hers. Even then, the couple would not have received the tax reimbursement until they filed their taxes the following year.The solution?“Only the children are covered,” Shannon related. “If I am not on the plan, they consider the children to be legally hers, as the employee. No proof required. If we were able to file jointly, no one would question if the children were legally my partner’s.”Someday, we’ll see committed same-sex couples treated the same as heterosexual married couples. When that happens, same-sex couples can start checking the appropriate box, whatever that should be. At least it won’t be “Single.”Help Project 515 work for fairness by telling us your story, or by donating your time or money. Visit www.project515.org.

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