Metro Weekly

Elizabeth Warren says gay couples should be refunded $57 million for tax returns filed before marriage equality

Prior to the repeal of DOMA, married same-sex couples were denied tax benefits that heterosexual couples enjoyed

Sen. Elizabeth Warren — Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) believes that same-sex couples should be refunded money from tax returns filed prior to marriage equality.

Warren’s Refund Equality Act, introduced last week, would directly target married same-sex couples who were denied the same refund benefits as married heterosexual couples under the U.S. Tax Code.

Prior to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013, married same-sex couples were not allowed to file their tax returns jointly — even if their union was recognized in their home state.

NBC News estimates that up to $57 million in eligible refunds were lost due to the discrepancy — an amount Warren wants to see passed back to same-sex couples.

Warren noted the discrepancy in refunds by referencing her home state of Massachusetts, where marriage equality became law in 2004.

“The federal government forced legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts to file as individuals and pay more in taxes for almost a decade,” Warren said in a statement. “We need to call out that discrimination and to make it right — Congress should pass the Refund Equality Act immediately.”

It’s particularly notable in Massachusetts, because after DOMA was repealed the IRS allowed same-sex couples to amend their tax returns to reclaim refunds for three years prior to the repeal.

However, that left couples in Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire short-changed — all passed marriage equality prior to 2010, the cut-off for the IRS’s three year refund backdate.

“It wasn’t until marriage equality became law that gay & lesbian couples could jointly file tax returns — so they paid more in taxes,” Warren said in a tweet. “Our government owes them more than $50M for the years our discriminatory tax code left them out. We must right these wrongs.”

Warren’s Refund Equality Act mirrors similar legislation the senator introduced in 2017, which was co-sponsored by 37 members of Congress but ultimately stalled in the Senate.

The new version of the presidential candidate’s legislation also complements similar legislation introduced in the House of Representatives last week by Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Andy Levin (D-MI).

The Promoting Respect for Individuals’ Dignity and Equality (PRIDE) Act of 2019 would similarly allow same-sex couples who married prior to DOMA’s repeal to file for refunds.

“This bill will correct an older injustice against same-sex couples and put money directly back into the pockets of families who have earned it,” Chu said in a statement. “For too long, discriminatory laws penalized same-sex married couples by denying them the ability to file jointly and claim tax refunds they were entitled… Because of IRS restrictions, these couples cannot amend their returns to claim reimbursement credits for many prior tax years. The PRIDE Act solves this problem.”

Warren, no stranger to fighting for LGBTQ equality, also last week demanded to know why the Trump administration banned American embassies from flying Pride flags during Pride Month.

Eighteen senators, all Democrats, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo questioning the rationale behind the ban, as well as asking why the State Department had failed to recognize Pride Month or provide guidance on LGBTQ issues to American missions abroad.

At least four embassies in Germany, Israel, Brazil and Latvia requested permission to fly Pride flags on embassy flag poles, but were rejected by the State Department.

The department argued that only the American flag should fly on embassy flagpoles, a reversal on department policy under former President Barack Obama’s tenure.

Speaking earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence told NBC News that it was “the right decision.”

“As the president said on the night we were elected, we’re proud to be able to serve every American,” Pence said. “We both feel that way very passionately, but when it comes to the American flagpole, and American embassies, and capitals around the world, one American flag flies.”

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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