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IRS addresses changing terms due to changed marriage laws

Photo of Karen Lavin

Defining marriage has been a defining issue within the U.S. and Illinois in recent history. Definitions can have an impact on people's lives, especially when tied to classifying the legitimacy of relationships and granting legal rights. 

As you likely know, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2013 that it is unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage in this country. That ruling reaches into every state in the country, including in Illinois. The ruling essentially defines marriage as a union between two consenting adults, not just between a man and a woman. With that definition having changed, other things needed to change too, including the definitions of tax terms.

Marriage is not just a romantic notion. It is a legal union that comes with governmental benefits and requirements. Tax laws, for example, differ for those who are legally married than for those who are single, in civil unions, or in domestic partnerships. Seeking fair recognition under the umbrella of marriage also means that those in same-sex marriages should get fair treatment under tax laws that apply to heterosexual married parties. 

That fair treatment necessitated clarification of terms within the tax code. Terms as seemingly simple as "spouse," "husband," and "wife," needed to be clarified in order to keep up with the country's changing marriage laws. The IRS proposed the following clarification to tax regulations in October:

"For federal tax purposes, the terms spouse, husband, and wife mean an individual lawfully married to another individual. The term husband and wife means two individuals lawfully married to each other. A marriage of two individuals is recognized for federal tax purposes if the marriage would be recognized by any state, possession, or territory of the United States."

Tax laws tend to be complicated for almost everyone. Anyone who is new to marriage will run into new questions about their taxes -- and same-sex spouses might want to take even more precautions to make sure that they understand their rights and are being treated fairly. 

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