Earlier today, I came across this entry on the Tax Prof Blog about a recent ruling from the U.S. tax court against a California gay rights activist. According to a post from October of 2008, Merrill “filed papers with the U.S. Tax Court objecting to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) based on the 1st Amendment Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He objects to not getting all the same benefits as other married couples” under the current tax code.
On Monday the Tax Court dismissed Merril’s claims, saying “we must decide whether petitioner, who was unmarried but in a committed relationship with another man during the years at issue, is entitled to married filing joint status. We hold that he is not.”
Petitioner and Mr. Boyle lived in North Carolina during the years at issue. They participated in a commitment ceremony in 2004, but North Carolina did not recognize same-sex marriages. Petitioner and Mr. Boyle were legally married in 2008 after moving to California.
Petitioner failed to file a tax return for either of the years at issue. Respondent contacted petitioner about filing income tax returns. Petitioner responded with a letter stating that he was not evading taxes, but refused to pay taxes as an act of civil disobedience advocating same-sex marriage equality. Respondent prepared substitutes for returns for the years at issue and issued deficiency notices to petitioner. In the substitutes for returns, respondent determined petitioner's filing status to be single. Petitioner resided in North Carolina when he filed the first petition regarding his return for 2004, and he resided in California when he filed the second petition regarding his return for 2005.
In both petitions, petitioner argued that he must be accorded married filing joint status, rather than single status, because of his long-term domestic partnership with Mr. Boyle. Respondent filed motions for partial summary judgment on whether petitioner is entitled to married filing joint status for the years at issue. Respondent argues that petitioner is not entitled to this status because he was not married in the years at issue and he did not file a joint return for those years. We agree and discuss each of respondent's arguments in turn.
Petitioner admits he was not legally married for either of the years at issue but argues, nonetheless, that he should be allowed to file joint returns because he was in a long-term committed relationship with his gay partner and North Carolina did not recognize same-sex marriage. Despite petitioner's argument, a taxpayer must file a joint return with his or her spouse and it must be signed by both spouses to claim the married filing joint status.
We conclude that respondent properly determined single filing status for petitioner. Accordingly, we hold that petitioner is not entitled to married filing joint status for the years at issue.