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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Same-sex couples face barriers when filing taxes in Michigan

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FLICKR USER ALAN CLEAVER / FLICKR
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April 15th, the looming tax deadline, is approaching.

While it can be complicated for anyone to figure out what we owe Lansing and Uncle Sam, there’s a particular group facing extra complications: same-sex couples in Michigan. These couples can file a joint form for their federal taxes, but the state of Michigan considers them single.

According to Joe Henchman, Vice President of State Projects at the Tax Foundation in Washington, it was a year and a half ago that the IRS officially allowed same-sex couples to file a joint return. That’s when same-sex couples in Michigan, and in other states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, entered into confusing tax territory.

Part of the complication was that taxpayers were told to file the same way on both the state and federal tax returns.

“But at the same time, they said, ‘We don’t recognize same-sex marriage. If you’re a same-sex married couple, you cannot file jointly,’” Henchman said.

In response to the problem, Henchman and the Tax Foundation asked state tax administrators in the states concerned to provide some guidance.

“We have all of this guidance on our website, at taxfoundation.org, and the Michigan Department of Treasury – which collects income taxes in Michigan – has it as well,” he said. “What you do is you fill out kind of a dummy federal return.”

This “dummy federal return” is officially a “pro forma return.” Same-sex couples then can prepare two federal returns, one for each person, in order to use those as the framework for the separate, individual state returns.

“It’s certainly not the ideal solution because it does involve a little bit more paperwork and a little bit more time and effort,” Henchman said. “Of course it’s certainly a better solution than providing no guidance at all, or putting tax payers in the position of having to break a state law. But, you know, this all goes to the fact that Michigan doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, so they can’t, legally at least, in their view, recognize this is a joint-filing opportunity.”