The gay tax

Like all of those in same-sex couples, this writer paysmore at tax time

I really don’t mind paying taxes. They’re my membership dues in society. Taxes educate children, provide mental-health services and elder care, build roads and infrastructure, support public libraries and the arts … well, pretty much everything except war and corporate subsidies are OK by me. But I don’t like paying more than my fair share, which I’ve been doing for the last couple of decades.

Like all Americans in same-sex couples, my wife and I pay a “gay tax.” It’s a tad less in California than it would be in, say, Missouri or Utah, but it’s more than any straight couple in our situation pays, thanks to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It’s a gay tax because only same-sex couples are forced to pay it.

We have what might be called an “economically traditional” marriage. My scientist wife makes triple what I earn as a writer. The disparity isn’t a problem—until tax time, when we have to file our federal taxes as if we were single.

In California, we also have to complete a “fake” federal tax form as if we were married and use the numbers from that to complete our joint California return. Under California’s domestic-partnership law, which first affected us on the 2007 taxes, we’re taxed as a married couple. But the Internal Revenue Service considers us legal strangers.

It’s cost us roughly $2,000 in federal taxes in each of the last two years. Before that, it also cost us in state taxes. Over the course of our relationship—which would have been a marriage long before last summer, had the law been less discriminatory—the difference is larger, because there were a number of years when I worked very little and relied on my wife’s income, as well as a couple of years when I worked while she was in graduate school. Of course, we’ve never been able to file jointly, thanks to DOMA.

The total, over almost two decades, comes to more than $31,000 paid in federal and state income taxes that a heterosexual couple in our circumstances would not have paid.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

During the 26 months we lived in Missouri, I couldn’t receive health insurance through her job. We paid out of pocket for all my medical costs, the largest of which was the slightly more than $300 a month for asthma medication.

Of course, the worst thing that could happen would be if my wife were to die. Not only would that break my heart, it would also be financially devastating. In New York recently, the photographer Annie Leibovitz had to sell off several pieces of property in order to pay the inheritance taxes on the estate of her longtime companion, Susan Sontag. While California would not levy inheritance taxes on my wife’s estate, the federal government would.

I’m grateful to finally be married. I hope that the California Supreme Court doesn’t decide to take that away from us. I’m ecstatic that Vermont, where we lived for two years while my wife had a post-doctoral fellowship, and Iowa, which is our home state, have joined the ranks of states with marriage equality.

But I’m still paying a tax for being gay.