Bill would let gay couples file joint state tax returns

Measure on governor’s desk grants domestic partners key right, advocates say

When a state appeals court heard arguments in favor of California’s ban on same-sex marriage in July, lawyers for the state contended that gay and lesbian couples in domestic partnerships receive most of the rights of spouses.

One important right is missing, gay advocates say — the ability to file joint tax returns.

A bill sitting on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, authored by state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, would add that benefit to those given to couples registered as domestic partners.

“A family of four with a $67,000-a-year income, where the partner stays home to take care of the kids, if they’re able to file jointly like married couples do, that would be a savings of $2,000 a year, in tax breaks,” said Eric Potashner, Migden’s deputy chief of staff. “We’re trying to equal the playing field, so that gay families aren’t being penalized or taxed extra.”

The bill’s detractors have opposed the expansion of gay rights, suggesting that the tax break is another state-sanctioned effort to legitimize homosexuality.

The fiscal impact of the bill would be about $10 million a year by 2010, according to the Franchise Tax Board. Same-sex couples would still file federal tax returns separately.

Although Gov. Schwarzenegger has not made any public statements about the tax measure, he has signed previous bills that support domestic partners — while vetoing legislation last year that would have given same-sex partners the right to marry.

Six years ago, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state. To date, voters in 20 other states have passed similar legislation.

Last year, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the ban was unconstitutional, but suspended his ruling for the appeal process.

The ruling from the state appeals court is due by Oct. 8, although Kate Kendell, president of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the ruling could come "literally any day.”

Recent court rulings in New York and Washington affirming bans on gay marriage were “a sobering realization that it’s a real fight, a real struggle,” Kendell said.

In August, a poll released by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 35 percent of Americans support same-sex marriages, up from 27 percent a decade earlier, although 56 percent of those polled said they oppose the gay unions. More favorable to those surveyed, with 54 percent approval, were civil unions or domestic partnerships.

beslinger@examiner.com

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