Mr. Merrill (yes he’s related to a Merrill Lynch founder) did not file tax returns for 2004 or 2005. When the IRS prepared the returns on his behalf they used the single filing status. Mr. Merrill asserts that he should be afforded the married filing jointly (MFJ) status because he is in a long-term domestic partnership with Mr. Boyle, his partner of 18 years.
During the years at issue, Mr. Merrill and Mr. Boyle lived in North Carolina. North Carolina did not then – and does not today – recognize same-sex marriages. In 2008, Mr. Merrill and Mr. Boyle moved to California and were legally married.
The issue for the Court is whether a long-term domestic partnership qualifies for the married filing jointly status.
Section 7703(a)(1) states that an individual’s marital status shall be determined at the end of the tax year. “Whether a taxpayer is married for Federal income tax purposes is determined by reference to the laws of the State of the taxpayer’s marital domicile.” Further, “where a taxpayer did not file a return and a substitute for return was prepared using single filing states, the taxpayer may claim married filing joint status only by subsequently filing a return.”
The Tax Court upholds the single filing status because Mr. Merrill did not file a return claiming the MFJ status after the IRS prepared his return using the single filing status. The Court points out that Mr. Merrill admitted he was not legally married under the laws of any state during 2004 or 2005, but it does not appear this was the basis for their decision.
Next, Mr. Merrill argues that the Tax Code discriminates against same-sex couples in violation of their constitutional rights. The Court does not address this argument but rather cites case law, which has consistently denied these types of constitutional claims brought by not only same-sex couples, but married and single persons alike.
Mr. Merrill also challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Court does not address the constitutionality of DOMA because that question is irrelevant to Mr. Merrill’s filing status.
The California Quandary
The Court seems to suggest that had Mr. Merrill and Mr. Boyle been married under the laws of their State of domicile they would be afforded the MFJ status. As stated, the couple was legally married in 2008 under the laws of California. Since that time, however, California has overturned their same-sex marriage laws (here). Presumably, Mr. Merrill’s marriage was preserved by the Calif. Supreme Court’s ruling since it was already in existence prior to the passing of Proposition 8. I would expect, therefore, that Mr. Merrill and Mr. Boyle are now filing tax returns under the MFJ status.
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