A new Senate bill proposing changes to the state tax code to accommodate same-sex couples has revived impassioned debate about the definition of marriage.
Senate Bill 19, which proposes substituting the words “husband” and “wife” with “two taxpayers” on state income tax forms, moved swiftly through the state Legislature last week.
If passed, the bill would codify and reinforce a recent government ruling that allows same-sex couples legally married out-of-state to file joint state tax returns in Colorado if they file a joint federal income tax return. This does not apply to same-sex couples who entered a civil union in Colorado.
Jenny Kraska of the Colorado Catholic Conference said it’s a back-door way to erode the definition of marriage, defined as between one man and one woman in the state constitution.
“They’re slowly chipping away at marriage and they’re using the tax code to do it,” she said. “It’s disrespectful to what our constitution says and it’s disrespectful to the voters of Colorado who voted for marriage to mean something very specific in Colorado.”
Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who sponsors the bill, told the Denver Catholic Register constitutional approval of gay marriage is inevitable but his bill won’t accomplish it.
“I acknowledge I’m taking words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and ‘married’ out of the tax code, but I don’t see that as an attack on marriage; that’s not my intent,” Steadman said. “I don’t think that marriage has a more special place in our society just because there are particular little details in the tax code that use language like a husband and wife.”
The debate arose after the state Department of Revenue made an emergency ruling in November declaring same-sex couples must file joint state returns if they filed joint federal returns, which is typically done by any couple filing jointly. But Colorado law doesn’t allow it for same-sex couples.
The state Department of Revenue’s ruling permits joint state filings for 120 days, and Steadman said his bill would “bolster” that ruling.
Kraska said while a solution is needed for couples filing jointly, Steadman’s bill is not a solution that respects the state constitution.
“Senator Steadman says it’s needed to clean-up the language in the statute because it doesn’t reflect the emergency ruling of the Department of Revenue,” Kraska said. “My argument is for good reason because the state of Colorado does not recognize same-sex marriage.”
She said the right solution would be like that of Wisconsin, which adopted a new form for same-sex couples in this tax return dilemma. The state’s new form helps couples calculate income from joint federal returns in order to file individual returns at the state level, she said.
“I believe there can be a remedy as proven by other states that have already done this,” Kraska said.
Colorado not “marriage neutral”
Steadman argued in a committee hearing Jan. 14 that the bill makes state tax forms “marriage neutral.”
Kraska said Colorado is not a marriage neutral state and therefore tax forms should reflect this.
“Anyone who cares about our constitution and the will of people, who put in a constitutional amendment that defines marriage between one man and one woman, shouldn’t be happy with the fact that we’re making our tax code marriage neutral,” she said.
At the same hearing, attorney Michael Norton of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit religious liberties organization, testified that the state department’s ruling is unconstitutional.
Its ruling is contrary to state law that limits joint income tax returns to “a husband and wife.”
“If the Colorado Department of Revenue persists in this ruling and two people who are not married are permitted to file joint returns, litigation can be expected,” Norton said in his prepared comments.
Litigation may be mute, however, if the bill passes quickly through the Legislature, he said.
Nonetheless, Norton questions the department’s authority to make such rulings and called it another step in the “subterfuge effort to undermine marriage.”
Carolyn Tyler, public information officer for the state attorney general’s office, said it is not making a statement on the Department of Revenue’s ruling at this time.
“The fact the attorney general hasn’t taken a position on this is also somewhat troubling because it affects our constitution,” Kraska said.
However, documents obtained by the Denver Catholic Register dated Dec. 6 show the attorney general’s office “finds no apparent constitutional or legal deficiency in their form or substance” with the department’s ruling.
The bill headed to the Senate for a second reading after it passed a finance committee 3-2.
HOW TO CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATOR
Visit the Colorado Catholic Conference’s website to find your legislators and contact them regarding legislation. www.votervoice.net/COCC/Address.
Read tips at www.cocatholicconference.org on how to write, call or visit your legislator.