A movement is building across the country as more and more gay people get legally married in the U.S. or abroad. Whether on tax returns or customs forms, in the muddle of contradictory, nonsensical, and infuriating laws, married gay couples are refusing to identify as "single." Quietly, from California to New York, from Alaska to Florida, couples are refusing to deny their spouses and are willing to enter legally murky territory to take a stand.
A website called RefuseToLie.org has become a gathering place for gay couples to share their stories and for others to speak out in solidarity. While many post that they have chosen to file as married, the site also provides tax tips for those who wish to protest but don't want to risk running afoul of the IRS.
Research shows that gay people on average pay nearly $500,000 more over a lifetime due discriminatory laws. A recent CNNMoney study concluded that same-sex couples are paying as much as $6,000 more in annual federal income taxes than other married couples, even in states that recognize their unions. For example, married couples filing jointly who sell a home can exclude from taxation up to $500,000 of the income received. Gay couples are only allowed to exclude $250,000, the same as single filers. Given these disparities, how many times has bigotry cost gay families a home in a safer neighborhood, a college education for their children, or the startup money for a business?
But the Refuse to Lie movement is not spurred by gay couples looking for a bigger refund. In some cases, filing as married has been more costly, but the principle was worth it. Last year Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and her wife paid roughly $5,000 more to declare herself married and the parent to her children. On RefuseToLie.org she writes:
Sandy and I do our very best to raise our kids to live with integrity, power in the world and openness to what is possible. The core values we try to instill in Julian and Ariana are compromised every time we deny who Sandy and I are to each other and every time we diminish what we mean to each other. We will no longer participate in the government's erasure of our relationship and our marriage. We want our kids to grow up with the courage to step out and step up, even if it is difficult or risky. For us, refusing to lie on our taxes is a straightforward, and pretty minor way to demonstrate that courage ourselves.
As a lawyer and a legal advocate for the LGBT community, I am often in a position to advise people to exercise great caution and to comply in most cases with the letter of the law, even when that means denying who we are. This is my small way of saying, where we can, we are not going to play the game anymore.
Another couple from Alaska shared the complexities of filing as parents and business owners:
This May my same-sex partner and I have been together for 11 years and have raised three children into adulthood and just adpoted our four child and this year's taxes were a nightmare because we had to decide who was claiming our youngest and did that mean they also claimed the adpotion credits as well and hey let's throw in PFD since we are Alaskans. We have one in college as well to claim. We own a home, a business and bought a car jointly so deciding who will claim what on our taxes was a bloody nightmare. If we could have filed jointly the Federal government would have recieved more money from us and I would have paid that gladly rather than go though the weeks of figuring out how to honestly reports things to them without looking like we were lying, trying to hide or fraud the IRS. Plus what is the ethical values we teaching our children...its ok to lie about who you are and who your family is? I think not...Please help it stop.
Discrimination at tax time is as hidden as it is widespread. For many straight people, the inequity in tax law comes as shocking news. "I am a straight single man and I am outraged that my government does this. I will stand with you any way I can," wrote Josh.
The Refuse to Lie movement ideally isn't restricted to filing taxes. Increasingly, gay couples are pushing back against customs agents who require them to fill out separate forms rather than recognize them as family. A Canadian couple made news last year when they began a visit to the U.S. According to Xtra!:
As the couple was approaching US customs at Vancouver international Airport on July 28, a Canadian official approached them, asking if they lived together and how they were related. The couple indicated they were married. The Canadian official then said the couple was required to fill out two forms and couldn't go through US customs together.
"I was very angry," Karen-Marie says. She was so shaken that she couldn't even fill out the customs form; Andrina completed it. Karen-Marie even considered abandoning the trip.
Such shabby treatment isn't reserved for foreign travelers. Rudy Molinet, a Key West real estate broker, and his spouse Harry Hoehn were confronted by a customs agent as the couple were returning from France through customs at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. On his personal blog, Rudy writes:
When Harry and I approached the customs officer to enter, we walked up together as did every other married couple in line. I was ordered to "get back in line, only families can come up here together".
This was my lunch counter moment. I calmly told the immigration officer that Harry was my husband and that I would not get back in line. He became confrontational. "We don't recognize your marriage, you are not a family unit under the law, and I order you to get back in line", he barked.
I refused. I took a stand. I told the officer, "I am not a second-class citizen, I am an American citizen, and the only way I will go to the back of the bus is if you arrest me and put me there". It was quite a stand-off, a stare down. He was armed with a gun; I was armed with a greater weapon: the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution won. He backed off, begrudgingly letting me go through immigration with my husband -- just like every other couple.
But the murky legal landscape may be tilting in favor of equal rights for gay married couples. In a memo on RefuseToLie.org, Patricia Cain, a professor at Santa Clara Law and a national expert in federal tax law and sexuality and the law, writes:
Tax advisers in the past have warned same-sex married couples not to file as married (either jointly or separately) because of the possible imposition of penalties for doing so. The recent litigation attacking DOMA has led some to question whether joint filing might be a reasonable position, despite President Obama's pronouncement that agencies should continue to enforce DOMA. In other words, if the Attorney General of the United States has taken the position that DOMA is unconstitutional, why shouldn't taxpayers be allowed to rely on that opinion and file as though DOMA were not in force?
My wife and I will once again file as married. We got married in 2009 in Vermont, surrounded by 80 of our friends and family at the Burlington Quaker Meeting House. We committed, in front our loved ones and duly authorized representatives of the State of Vermont, to love, cherish, and protect each other for the rest of our lives. It would be both dishonest and deeply humiliating to now disavow each other of our marriage and declare ourselves single on our tax form. We have a 9-month-old son, and we know that our actions will teach him more than just our words. How can we raise him to be honest and have integrity in his dealings with other people but fill out forms that deny our existence as a family?
Check out this MSNBC segment on the Refuse to Lie movement:
And in this video I speak at the TEDxTampaBay event on inequalities surrounding gay marriage rights: