Linda Siegle and her partner have been together for more than 20 years. Laurel Awishus has lived with her partner for 30 years. And Claudia Sanchez has been with her spouse for almost 50 years.
All three women were finally able to marry their longtime partners in New Mexico last August after the Santa Fe County clerk began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So this year, for the first time, these couples will be allowed to file joint tax returns, just like all other married couples in the state.
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that restricted marriage to heterosexual unions. The court said all legal marriages must be treated the same. The federal government later announced that all same-sex couples’ legal marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes.
And then in December, a state Supreme Court ruling made New Mexico the 17th state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriages.
Peter Doniger, a district coordinator for the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide, said newly married couples will now need to decide whether to file their taxes jointly or separately, depending on which status is more beneficial to them.
“If they’re legally married, they are in the same boat as anyone who is married … there are not separate rules,” he said.
“It will be our pleasure as American citizens to pay our taxes jointly, however it goes,” said Awishus, 71, who married her wife, Kathy Adelsheim, 65, last year in Santa Fe. “It’s like we’ve joined the rest of you.”
Under an IRS rule, same-sex couples also can amend their tax returns going back to 2010 if they were legally married as of Dec. 31, 2013.
Michael Parks, a former attorney with the Senior Citizens’ Law Office, will give a presentation for same-sex couples on federal benefits April 1 at Temple Beth Shalom. A similar online presentation is available at the organization’s website, http://sclonm.org.
“We decided, because our state’s Supreme Court [ruled same-sex marriages legal] in late December that it would be a good time to specifically address the impacts [on benefits],” Parks said.
Siegle, a member of the Santa Fe Community College Governing Board, said filing jointly with her spouse, Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics, will mean a bigger tax refund than filing separately.
“So we’re happy about that,” Siegle said.
She and Stefanics were the first gay couple to be married in Santa Fe County in August, after the county clerk started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “It’s a level of protection that heterosexual couples have that those of us who are gay and lesbian would like to have also, and now … we do,” Siegle said.
Monica Hardeman, a local agent with H&R Block, which helps prepare tax returns, said she has more same-sex couples as clients this year than in past years.
Donald Stout, 63, an accountant who married his husband three years ago in Iowa, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, said this is a big issue for gay couples who have been together for years but have had to file as single.
“We’ve been fighting for this for so long, because … we want our relationships to be recognized in an equal way as everyone else … and taxes is one [way],” Stout said. “But the most important thing was getting society to respect our relationships.”
Sanchez, 70, a retired nurse who married her spouse in Santa Fe in August, said, “We’ve felt a sense of complete freedom that we didn’t have before. It’s a sense that other people have taken for granted, that we never had.”
Contact Uriel J. Garcia at 986-3062 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.