There’s a Pointless Anti-Gay Tax War Going on in Missouri

The Missouri Family Policy Council, a group affiliated with the established anti-gay national group Focus on the Family, has with a number of other special interest groups filed a petition (.pdf) asking District Court Judge Jon Beetem to put an immediate stop to Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s administration recognizing joint filings from married same-sex couples. The plaintiffs claim that unless Judge Beetem does as they ask, they will suffer “immediate and irreparable damage.”

This action stems from an executive order issued in November by Governor Nixon that attempted to reconcile Missouri tax filings with federal tax filing rules. The issue was created when, as of last year, the IRS announced that it would accept joint filings by married same-sex couples even if the state in which they currently reside does not recognize their marriages.

In the order, Nixon rightly pointed out that Missouri tax code relies on federal tax filing regulations. As such, while Missouri has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, Nixon’s administration determined that there is no barrier to joint tax filings by same-sex couples. Wrote Nixon in a release about the executive order:

“Missouri is one of a number of states whose tax code is directly tied to that of the federal government and under Missouri law, legally married couples who file joint federal tax returns with the IRS must also file joint state returns with our state Department of Revenue.

“As a result, accepting the jointly-filed state tax returns of all legally-married couples who file federal returns is the only appropriate course of action, given Missouri statutes and the ruling by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”

The coalition of religious voices trying to put a stop to this say that the Governor is wrong. More than that, though, they contend in their court filing that the Governor has made a series of what are apparently impeachable offenses — quite separate from the court action Republican lawmakers are also pursuing impeachment proceedings against the governor. So, does the petition have merit? Even a casual glance says that they’re on shaky ground.

Plaintiffs say that the will of the people has been expressed and that Missouri’s gay marriage ban prevents the state government from recognizing same-sex couples for the purpose of filing taxes. Let’s take a look at the language of the gay marriage ban as passed in 2004:

That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.

That’s it. While some state constitutional bans do specifically prevent the state government from conferring recognition for things like joint tax filings, that’s not true of Missouri’s sparse ban, which as outlined above is a narrow one. The argument that it is the will of the people to limit this aspect of partnership recognition is suspect because the amendment makes no mention of this purpose. The court will therefore have to adjudicate whether it could reasonably be interpreted that the voting public believed that in so defining marriage they also meant to prevent same-sex couples filing joint tax returns. That sounds like a stretch.

Nevertheless, the petitioners then contend that Missouri’s tax codes do, however, limit the government from recognizing same-sex couples. Missouri’s tax code does not limit joint tax filings specifically to heterosexuals but instead follows the now gay marriage-accepting federal definitions. However, the petitioners note, there is a clause in the code that says that the state code will follow federal law “unless a different meaning is clearly required” by state law. The petitioners contend that because the code goes on to use the terms “husband” and “wife” where it refers to joint filing, the state definition should be given weight over the federal one. What’s more, they contend that the governor has effectively ignored this fact.

However, as above, there is nothing in the constitutional amendment that directly or even indirectly instructs on joint filing. The petitioners, then, seem to take it for granted that the amendment should apply in this manner and that Governor Nixon’s order was and is unconstitutional. However, there seems to be a gap between what they would like the law to say and what the letter of it in fact says.

The petitioners then say that, with this order, Governor Nixon circumvented the Legislature in allowing joint tax filings by same-sex couples and therefore committed an ultra vires act, or something that is beyond his power.

While the exact separation of powers should be the one for the courts to adjudicate, a reasonable argument could be made that Governor Nixon was in fact acting to clarify the current state of the law, to point out that there is currently no barrier to Missouri same-sex couples who were married elsewhere filing their state taxes in this manner. The order specifically does not recognize any new rights — as that is the domain of the legislature — and does not change the eligibility criteria for deductions or credits.

Now, as to the matter of “irreparable harm” the plaintiffs claim they will face should joint filings continue: they offer a scatter-shot of things they take exception to, but the crux of the matter seems to be that they as tax payers will face a financial burden if the state recognizes these joint filings. This is, at best, a stretch.

So what is really going on here? This filing actually seems to be working as a test case as the Religious Right attempts to strike back at the Obama administration for its having recognized same-sex marriage and the way in which this has severely undermined anti-gay marriage states.

We can probably expect to see more filings like this in other states where the state tax code follows federal definitions if the administration in charge dares to follow Governor Nixon’s lead, that or witness legislation hurtling toward governors’ desks so as to make it explicitly clear that the state’s gay marriage ban should apply for tax purposes. If ultimately the plaintiffs do somehow manage to win this first court round, the appeal could be very interesting because Governor Nixon will then be able to draw on the harm that the same-sex marriage ban causes in the state. It’s almost difficult to know what to hope for.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

Now they want to tax you for the way you are born. When will they grow up.

Hope Sellers
Hope Sellers3 years ago

It is apparent that the religious right wants to dictate to everyone their form of religion. This is in direct conflict with our Constitution. Everyone has the right to practice their religion or not practice any religion. They can not force their religion or lack of religion on others. By opening a commercial business or service that does not mean they can force their religious beliefs or lack of beliefs on others. Religion should be between the individual and their God.

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

Tim, Pam and others,

they are the same kind of bigoted people who did the following prior to the 2012 presidential election.

‘Don’t Re-Nig’ purveyor Paula Smith says bumper sticker isn’t racist

Creator of 'Don't Re-Nig in 2012' bumper sticker says: 'I am not racist'

Racist Anti-Obama Sticker Makes Rounds On Facebook

pam w.
pam w3 years ago're right, of course. I can imagine the bigots painting "GOD HATES FAGS"" on the moon's surface, so we could all be in awe of their RIGHTEOUSNESS!

Who do you suppose they'd begin to hate once homosexuals were out of their picture? doubt they'd find SOMEONE.

Mary L.
Mary L3 years ago

The absurdity of this nonsense makes my jaw drop every time I hear another example. Some days my chin looks like a yo yo.

These people run around screaming about how they are being persecuted by all those evil going to hell people. While their busily suing anyone and everyone who offends them.

I like the moon, but I'd be willing to send them all up there to preserve their sacred rights. Where is the petition for that?

Tammy I.
Tammy I3 years ago

Michael T. You are my hero. Tim W. please know there are more people who think like Michael T. does ---our numbers are increasing by the minute.

There is something intrinsically askew in the minds of those who believe they are better than someone else based on race, religion, sexual orientation, financial / social status.

By creating the "other" in their imagination, they seem to find their own sense of worthiness. They feed on divisiveness and gain a false sense of power and control by perpetuating such divisions.

I am somewhat guilty of doing the same here with my discernment of those who would rather divide and hate than unite and heal. But my intentions are different.

I think it all comes down to fear. Why are they afraid? What do they think might happen to them if everyone was treated equally and with respect? What would they lose? Maybe a huge chunk of their identity.

Hatred, bigotry, selfishness, arrogance seem to be defense mechanism created by the mind to mask fear and vulnerability. If we listen closely, we can hear the fear behind the words.

I am afraid, too. I fear the results of such words--- but hold on to the hope demonstrated by so many voices who are not afraid to speak, by so many people who are not afraid to act ---against injustice in all its forms.

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

Live and let live !!!!!!!

Tim W.
Timothy W3 years ago

pam w.
Didn't one of the Republican presidential candidates want to start a moon colony? I want to say it was McCain but I seem to have begun to blank them out by that point. I do remember thinking awesome idea, then all the Republicans and TeaBaggers could round up all the evangelists and move there. Of course the only thing that worries me about that idea is the moon is quite important to the earth and I am afraid of what they would do to it while they are there.

pam w.
pam w3 years ago

THEY will be damaged unless they get to damage others?

I wish we could grant them their wish....a Christian ''state'' somewhere....made up of all-white, heterosexual bigots! I know-how about a MOON colony?

Norma Villarreal
Norma Villarreal3 years ago

Good Lord. Live and let live.