Like thousands of other gay families did, Em and I submitted fraudulent tax returns this weekend. We didn't mean to, didn't want to, but we had to. We are legally married, but we each filed as single taxpayers - as required by the IRS, which isn't allowed to recognize our marriage.
It's one of the things that drives us crazy about the current situation - we were married in California, where our marriage is still valid while the Proposition 8 challenges drag on, and we are considered legally married by the State of New York, where we live. But the presidential signature on the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (gee, thanks, Mr. Clinton...) means that at the federal level, we are still legal strangers to each other. That means the IRS won't accept a tax return from us as a married couple.
Don't get me wrong - I'm in no rush to pay that infamous marriage penalty. But I'd be willing to pay it if it meant filing an honest return. Consider my family: I'm the primary breadwinner, with a stay-at-home spouse and two kids relying on my income. Could we be any more of a traditional family? (Well, yes, we could, but I mean financially speaking.) The most accurate tax return for us is the same one my parents used to file: Married Filing Jointly, with me as wage earner, Em as spouse, and Ann and Mary as our dependent children. Instead, our annual tax returns don't describe our family well at all. And creating our final returns is four or five times as difficult as it needs to be.
You see, tax time has become something of a marathon for us, as we create multiple versions of our returns to see which one makes the most sense. We start out even, each of us taking one child as a dependent and each taking half the deductions and credits (mortgage interest, real estate tax, joint charitable deductions, child care and home energy credits, whatever). Then the games begin: would we do better if I took more of the deductions, to offset my income? What if I took all the real estate tax, but we split the interest on the home equity loan? What if I took both kids as my dependents this year? If we change our dependents from year to year, are we increasing our risk of audit? Could both of us be Unmarried Head of Household if we have only one household between us? We go through four or five variations until we find the combination that creates the lowest possible total tax for the family.
It's time-consuming and exhausting, but it's all perfectly legit - and it's crazy. After all, the Married Filing Jointly category was pretty much tailor made for our family, but that's the one variation we don't bother to run, because we know we can't use it (although I guess it might be interesting to find out how much more we'd have to pay that way). Hey, it's not as if the U.S. Treasury couldn't use a little extra money these days. And I'd rather pay the marriage penalty than the Alternative Minimum Tax -- but don't even get me started on that one!
So here were are again this year, knowingly filing our falsified tax returns, knowing that an accurate filing would be rejected. C'mon, IRS, come and get us!