Nov. 15 - Same-sex couples who are legally married in other states can now file joint state tax returns in Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday, noting that he was making the change because state tax law is linked to federal tax law.
After the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, the IRS ruled that legally married same-sex couples will be treated as married for federal tax purposes, no matter where they live.
At a news conference in his Capitol office, Nixon told reporters he will issue an executive order today telling the Missouri Department of Revenue to accept the couples' joint state returns if they file joint federal returns.
In 2004, Missouri voters passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
"This is not about the definition of marriage," Nixon said. "This is about the structure of the tax code."
Nixon's position drew a quick rebuke from House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka. The speaker said Nixon, a Democrat, was trying to violate voters' will to satisfy his liberal allies.
"The governor's job is to defend our state's constitution -- including the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman that was passed overwhelmingly in this state -- not to surrender to the whims of the Obama administration," Jones said in a statement.
PROMO, a group that lobbies for gay rights in Missouri, praised Nixon's move.
"We applaud the governor for giving clarity to same-sex couples and providing guidance on how we complete tax return information in the state of Missouri," said A.J. Bockelman, PROMO's executive director.
Among the states that do not recognize same-sex marriages, Missouri is the only one allowing the couples to file joint returns, according to the advocacy group.
"This is a great sign. We're very excited about it," said Robin Maril, attorney for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington. "As Gov. Nixon points out (in his remarks), this is the only appropriate course of action."
Nixon noted that state tax liability is calculated based on the adjusted gross income figure that taxpayers use on their federal tax return.
"It's pretty simple. If you jointly file with the IRS, you jointly file with the state Department of Revenue," he said.
Nixon said at the news conference that legally married same-sex couples would be able to use any state tax breaks that are reserved for married couples. But his office later retracted that statement, saying that while federal exemptions for couples would be reflected in their federal adjusted gross income, state-level exemptions, deductions and credits would not apply.
Bockelman said it was good to see Missouri out front on a gay rights issue. He hopes it will ultimately move the state toward legalizing same-sex marriage, something 15 other states and the District of Columbia have done. Illinois will soon be the 16th.
Illinois legislators have approved same-sex marriage and Gov. Pat Quinn has announced he will sign the legislation on Wednesday. It's expected to go into effect June 1.
While emphasizing that his executive order dealt only with tax filing status, Nixon said he would like to see state voters take another look at recognizing same-sex marriage.
"Many Missourians, including myself, are thinking about these issues of equality in new ways and reflecting on what constitutes discrimination. To me, that process has led to the belief that we shouldn't treat folks differently just because of who they are," Nixon said.
"I think if folks want to get married, they should be able to get married," he said.
Doug Moore of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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