What Does Thursday’s DOMA Ruling Mean for Taxes?

This blog post is about an appeals court ruling on DOMA in 2012. If you’re looking for commentary on the US Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling on 6/26/13, click here.


A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. See a Washington Post article about the ruling here.

DOMA is a federal law that defines marriage, for all federal purposes, as being “one man, one woman” regardless of how a state defines marriage. Meaning, same-sex couples who are legally married in states such as Iowa are considered unmarried for all federal purposes. As I’ve written about before, this causes headaches with taxes.

So how does this ruling affect the taxes of same-sex married couples? For now, nothing changes. The appeals court put a stay on its ruling, and the case will almost certainly go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Professor Pat Cain at the Same Sex Tax Law Blog says it’s possible the Supreme Court could issue a ruling as soon as 2013. Assuming the Supreme Court overturns DOMA, couples in same-sex marriages will then be able to file joint tax returns.

It’s also possible DOMA could be overturned retroactively. If this happens, some same-sex married couples may benefit from filing amended returns with a joint filing status.

It might also be beneficial to file those amended returns as soon as possible to put in a protective claim on your refund before any statute of limitations kick in. For example, 2009 was the first year of same-sex marriage in Iowa. The statute of limitations to amend 2009 tax returns is April 15, 2013. This is a discussion to have with an accountant like me who specializes in same-sex tax issues.

Further Reading

Professor Pat Cain’s blog, found here, is required reading for anyone interested in the tax issues of same-sex marriage.