Friday, February 17, 2012

Ask the InfoLine: Tax Time, Married Same-Sex Couples & DOMA

It’s tax time, and for married same-sex couples the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) can cause a number of problems. The first involves just filing your taxes. Because the federal government does not respect your marriage, you must file two separate returns using “Single” as your filing status. We encourage couples to in some way indicate on their return that they are in fact in a same-sex marriage so that there is no question about their relationship status if the tax return is used for some other purpose, like applying for a mortgage.

If you live in a place that recognizes your marriage, then in most cases (you should verify this for your place of residence) you MUST file as married, either as married filing jointly or married filing separately (which is different from the “Single” filing status). However, since state tax forms require that you bring over information from your federal form, you will need to create a “dummy” federal tax form as married that you use to bring over your figures onto the state form. The “dummy” federal form never gets filed anywhere—it is just used to create your married state form. For more detailed information about this see GLAD’s publication, Navigating Income Taxes for Married Same-Sex Couples.

The second issue that some married same-sex couples face, is that IF they could file as married they would pay less federal taxes than the current requirement of filing two “Single” returns. When GLAD wins one of its DOMA lawsuits, same-sex married couples should be able to file as married from that point on, but is there anything that can be done to get back some of the taxes that have already been paid out? Possibly.

Generally speaking, the IRS allows you to file an amended return up to three years from the date you filed your return. So if that time period has not expired, you can go back and file an amended return as married. Of course, that return should be denied because of DOMA, but you can keep appealing the IRS decision administratively until they will finally give you a “right to sue” letter in federal court. The idea is to keep your appeal going for as long as possible hoping that we will defeat DOMA while your appeal is still active. So you would want to stretch out each time limit as much as possible but still make sure that you take that step within the allowable timeframe. There is much more detailed information about this in our publication, Tax Time and Preserving Your Federal Rights.

If you have questions about any of this, the best place to go is GLAD’s Legal InfoLine at 800-455-GLAD (4523) or

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ask the InfoLine: LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS Resources for You

Thanks to the work of two of our interns, Richard Luedeman and Allister Chang, GLAD now has a Resource List for each of the six New England states. You can either access the list online (see individual links below) or we can mail you your state’s Resource List in printed form- just contact GLAD’s Legal InfoLine.

Wherever possible we have included “umbrella” organizations that maintain lists of other local organizations that provide services in the area. For example, in some states there is a statewide HIV/AIDS organization that has a list of other local HIV/AIDS service providers. These “umbrella” organizations should have more up-to-date lists as changes occur.

We hope that you find these useful. We welcome suggestions of other agencies to include and would appreciate receiving any corrections or updates that need to be made. Changes, suggestions and comments can be sent to us here.

In addition to these Resource Lists, GLAD has a large number of publications on the various legal issues that affect the LGBT and HIV+ communities in the six New England states. Just contact the Legal InfoLine, and an experienced volunteer can guide you to the publication(s) that provide the information you need.

New England LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS Resources by State

New Hampshire
Rhode Island

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mass. Appeals Court Gets It Right in Same-sex Couple’s Custody Dispute

We love to see headlines like the one atop a story in today’s Boston Globe: Same-sex parents share role, court says The story details a ruling by the Massachusetts Appeals Court which said that state law gives two people equal legal standing when a child conceived by artificial means is born during a marriage, despite the fact that the law specifically refers to a “husband” and a “married woman.”

“We do not read ‘husband’ to exclude same-sex married couples, but determine that same-sex married partners are similarly situated to heterosexual couples in these circumstances,’’ the court wrote in its brief, unsigned opinion.

The decision marks the first time that an appellate court in Massachusetts has squarely addressed the issue of a child’s parentage when they were born into the marriage of a same-sex couple since GLAD’s historic Goodridge victory made it possible for same-sex couples to marry here starting in 2004. When the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of our Goodridge plaintiffs, it made clear that Massachusetts law must apply in the same way to married same-sex couples as it does to married different-sex couples, and that includes children born into those marriages.

That’s the good news. What’s disappointing about this ruling is the circumstance that brought it about: a divorced couple (identified in the ruling as Gabriella Della Corte and Angelica Ramirez) in which one of the parties attempted to exploit an inadequacy in the law against her same-sex ex-spouse. The Appeals Court’s opinion notes that Della Corte and Ramirez jointly decided to have a child through artificial insemination. Della Corte, with the consent and involvement of Ramirez, became pregnant through insemination two months before the couple married and later gave birth to their child. Although she had admitted that their child was a child “of the marriage” during the divorce proceedings, Della Corte later tried to argue in a complaint to change their post-divorce custodial arrangement that Ramirez should not be considered the child’s parent, arguing that her ex-wife didn’t legally qualify because she could never be a “husband” as stipulated in state law. In other words, despite the fact of their legal marriage, Della Corte tried to pull the plug on Ramirez’s parental rights over the obviously outdated terminology of the law in question. Obviously, as a woman, Ramirez isn’t a husband. But she is a parent based on the fact that a child was born into her marriage to Della Corte.

The phenomenon of same-sex partners exploiting the lack of legal protections for LGBT families – or laws that are outdated or don’t use LGBT-inclusive language, as in this case – isn’t new. GLAD and other LGBT organizations have been waging battles on behalf of LGBT parents whose exes use homophobic laws to try to cut them out of their children’s lives for decades. I’ve blogged about it at GLAD and reported on it in my previous life as a journalist. It’s also why, back in 1999, we created the document “Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families” in conjunction with other LGBT legal advocates and practitioners. The standards call on the members of our community – and their lawyers – to fight fairly and do their best to avoid damaging custody disputes. When we published an updated version of the standards last year, we created an online pledge so LGBT parents and legal practitioners could publicly commit to upholding them in an effort to further awareness of the need to ensure that children are able to continue healthy relationships with both of their parents in the unfortunate event that the parents split up.

It would also be helpful if our legislature – for the benefit of all our citizens, straight and gay – would give attention to modernizing our laws around reproductive technologies and parenting to provide more careful and precise guidance and comfort to everyone around these important issues.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An Academy of LGBT Issues: Wrapping Up Creating Change

GLAD's Robbie Samuels with Beth Zemsky (former Task Force board president)
and Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey

It’s hard to figure out where to start a post wrapping up GLAD’s experience at Creating Change 2012, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s annual national conference on LGBT equality. With more than 3000 LGBT activists from across the country descending on the Baltimore Hilton to attend some 250 workshops and training sessions, amazing plenaries and endless social opportunities over the course of five days last week, it was a tad overwhelming – but in a good way. So I’ll leave the hardest part to my colleague Eric Carreno, who summed up the conference quite accurately:

“It was a crazy experience, but well worth it,” says Eric, who attended Creating Change as a Pipeline Project fellow. “I was impressed at the diversity of participants and commitment to the movement from all walks of life. Creating Change is a marketplace of ideas, a place to share and learn from one another, an academy of LGBT issues, a meeting place. It was great, hectic, overwhelming, yet accessible.”

Once I adjusted to the sheer size of the conference – there were queer people jammed into every corner of the hotel and many workshops drew overflow crowds – I made sure to snag a good seat for the opening plenary session on Thursday evening, which featured NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous. Ben gave an energetic speech during which he pointed out the NAACP’s overall commitment to LGBT rights -- with specific shout outs to supporting Maryland’s efforts to pass marriage and comprehensive transgender nondiscrimination bills – and spoke about his close relationship with his gender-nonconforming sibling, Jason.

But more interesting to me was when Ben hit on an issue that isn’t on the traditional LGBT agenda: the wave of voting laws – more than 30 – that were introduced in state legislatures across the country last year, which aim to effectively make it more difficult for many Americans to have their say at the ballot box.

This suppression comes in the form of photo ID bills, limits on voter registration, limits on early voting, and ex-felon disenfranchisement,” he explained to the crowd. “And it consistently targets the heart of the progressive electorate -- people of color, students, blue collar workers, women, the elderly and disabled Americans.”

Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey picked up this issue in her State of the LGBT movement address at the following day’s plenary session, pointing out that such laws also impact LGBT people. Like Ben the night before, Rea called the initiatives “a plan to cut out the base of progressive voters from the process.” She also noted these efforts are “having a devastating effect on the ability of transgender people to vote” – an apparent reference to the fact that many trans people don’t have official identity documents that match their lived gender because of legal restrictions or financial hardship.

“And so we are called to lead and to protect access to voting,” Rea told the crowd. “This is in our self-interest and in the interest of our allies. We are people of color, we are students, we are transgender. … If we do not protect the right to vote, we will not win on immigration, we will not win on nondiscrimination, we will not protect affirmative action and we will not win on marriage.” She’s right.

Speaking of Rea’s state of the movement speech, GLAD’s work featured prominently in the victories and hopeful developments Rea detailed during her remarks. She noted the passage of transgender non-discrimination protections in Massachusetts and the defeat of LD 1046 in Maine, which would have excluded transgender people from sex-segregated spaces. GLAD was integrally involved in the coalitions that secured those victories last year, as you might have read in my Top 10 Victories of 2011 blog post a couple months back. And she gave an awesome shout out to the work we’re doing to win back marriage in Maine: “[A]fter two years of public education, field organizing, signature-gathering, and just plain old knocking on more than one hundred thousand doors,” she told the crowd, “Equality Maine; Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders; and the Why Marriage Matters Maine Coalition delivered over 105,000 signatures to the statehouse, announcing that they will make Maine the first state to go to the ballot box with a proactive measure to pursue marriage equality.” Coming just one day after the press conference in Augusta announcing our effort, the recognition was quite a thrill.

Saturday’s plenary was equally as thrilling, with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan making an appearance to announce that the Obama administration would be implementing a new policy prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-funded housing, or housing whose financing HUD insures, from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The policy also clarifies that LGBT families are eligible for HUD’s public housing and Housing Choice Voucher, and that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prohibited in the granting of a Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured mortgage. What I loved about Secretary Donovan’s remarks was in announcing this policy, he shared the story of Michelle DeShane, who wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to the housing voucher she receives to find affordable housing. Her local housing authority denied her request on the grounds that the couple didn’t meet its definition of family. Michelle and Mitch were then referred to a nearby housing authority that, as they were told, “accepts everyone – even Martians.” “That’s just wrong,” said Secretary Donovan. “No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Once again, the Obama administration was not only acknowledging the struggles of transgender Americans, it was taking steps to remedy such unfair treatment – the latest of several trans-friendly policy changes the administration has implemented.

Beyond the plenary sessions, I didn’t get to as many workshops as I would have liked. I confess I spent a lot of time in my room (over)preparing for the presentations I gave in two different workshops on Saturday. Public speaking makes me anxious (though I’m pretty good at telling other people what to say before pushing them into the spotlight). You can read more about each of those in my pre-conference blog post. I’m happy to report that the workshops were fun, well-attended, and participants were very engaged. And I did not make an ass out of myself or GLAD, as far as I know. Ditto for my co-worker Robbie Samuels, who hosted two workshops, Art of the Schmooze and Fundraising: Getting Past the Fear of Asking. Not long before I departed the conference on Saturday night, I struck up a random conversation with a woman who does development for an LGBT organization in Florida. As it turns out, she attended Robbie’s fundraising workshop and she gave him glowing reviews for the quality of his presentation and the quantity of practical information. Guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t tank.

Next year’s Creating Change is in Atlanta. Maybe we’ll see you there?