Politics

December 16, 2012

Gay marriage brings love ... bureaucracy

The state expects to have marriage licenses and joint-filing tax rules set for same-sex couples well before Dec. 29.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

If Maine follows the template set by the growing number of states where same-sex marriage is now legal, couples will be able to file state income taxes jointly, and marriage licenses will include options for wife, husband or spouse.

Those two decisions are expected to be made by early this week, just ahead of Dec. 29 -- the day Maine's law goes into effect.

"We fully expect that these things will be worked out by (this) week and that Maine will follow the lead set by other states," said Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, one of the main proponents of Maine's new same-sex marriage law that was approved by voters last month.

The Maine Office of Vital Records is in the process of updating the application for marriage licenses that is used by cities and towns across the state. John Martins, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees that office, said he wasn't sure what the exact changes would look like, but he expected municipalities to receive the updated form sometime next week.

Donna Hooper, head of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association and clerk for the town of Lexington, said Massachusetts didn't have updated forms ready when its law first went into effect in 2004, and the form still said "husband" and "wife."

Now, according to Hooper, it says "party A" and "party B," and has a spot for each party to select their sex.

The other states where same-sex marriage is legal, according to Bonauto, have changed their form so that an applicant can choose whatever term best describes them.

Donna Combs, a clerk in Warrensburg, N.Y., said her form has an option for "bride," "groom" or "spouse." The New York State Legislature approved legalizing gay marriage last year.

"The state quickly supplied us with new licenses, so it was never an issue," Combs said. "Everything went very smoothly. We had anticipated problems, but they didn't come."

Combs said the changes in New York have been a little unnerving for her. She was used to referring to people as "husband" and "wife." Now, she doesn't quite know how to address gay or lesbian couples.

"It's a little less personal, I think. More generic," she said.

In Maine, the new law goes into effect on a Saturday. While municipal offices usually do not open on weekends, a number of cities and towns have decided to hold Saturday hours on that date to accommodate couples who want to get married right away.

Most town officials have said they don't know what to expect on Dec. 29. Some towns, like Brunswick, are asking couples to make appointments to make the day run more smoothly. The marriage license application process takes about 20 minutes, but if a couple also wants to get married at their town or city hall that day, that process will take longer.

Aside from the excitement of being among the first same-sex couples to get married, there could be practical reasons for getting married in 2012 instead of waiting until 2013. Taxes seem to be one big reason, and it appears that Maine will follow what every other state has done and allow couples to file their state income taxes jointly as a married couple.

Michael Allen, research director for Maine Revenue Services, said Friday that he expects a notice to go out early this week from his office to all tax professionals that same-sex married couples should file state taxes the same way heterosexual married couples do.

"We've had an extensive discussion and reviewed as much tax law and information as we could and determined that this was the proper thing to do," he said.

Some states that allow civil unions or registered domestic partnerships, such as California and Oregon, allow those couples to file state taxes jointly as if married.

Same-sex couples in any state still will not be able to file federal income taxes jointly because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Bonauto said DOMA creates problems in other areas, too. When couples marry, each spouse automatically is considered a legal parent if they have children. However, that becomes a murky issue when it comes to federal laws and rights, because of DOMA.

Bonauto recommends that gay and lesbian couples adopt their own children because an adoption is a court judgment.

"It has more power," she said.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

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