By Dustin Nelson
The fact that gay couples can now file federal taxes jointly is not enough to get Ray Davis and Jason Templin to tie the knot.
“I don’t want to seem ungrateful for all the progress that’s been made, but it’s heartbreaking to come so close and still be left as a second-class citizen,” Davis said about the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
When the Supreme Court shot down parts of the law, it said the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed at the state level, thus accepting jointly filed tax returns. But states with bans on same-sex marriages are still not required to recognize them.
Montana is one such state.
John Blake, 27, who lives in Montana, describes his home state as “behind the times” despite national progress. “There are still a lot of gaps legally and socially for LGBT Montanans,” John says. “The Hate Crimes Act doesn’t protect Montanans because LGBT people are not recognized in our human rights statute.”
Davis and Templin have been partners for four years. They are not secretive about their relationship, but they’ve shied away from making it official on principle.
“We are very unsettled in our opinions about marriage,” Davis said. “I’m very political in my decision and Jason is more reserved in his opinion.”
For the couple, one of the problems is that even same-sex spouses legally married in a state like Washington or California can’t jointly file for state taxes when they move to Montana.
Based on the DOMA decision, couples who choose to take advantage of the tax benefits of marriage should know that they will receive all the same benefits as heterosexual couples when it comes to federal taxes. There are more than 200 provisions in federal tax code for married couples, and those married since 2010 can go back and refile for the years they’ve been married to catch up on any tax benefits they missed out on.
But in 2004, the Montana State Constitution was modified to explicitly define marriage as between one man and one woman. Now, with the option for legally married gay Montanans to file federal taxes jointly, but not state taxes, local same- sex couples are left in a gray area of partial equality.
In July 2013, American Civil Liberties Union Montana moved forward with a lawsuit that would secure the same domestic protections for same-sex couples as legally married couples. The organization filed the complaint against the state on behalf of seven couples, seeking recognition of domestic partnerships, so partners can visit each other in the hospital and make end-of-life decisions.
Should the complaint succeed, it would mark an improvement but wouldn’t secure marriage rights, which isn’t enough for some.
“Same-sex marriage is still banned in Montana, and as DOMA stands now, that won’t change,” Blake said.
Davis and Templin, meanwhile, are waiting to have the luxury of deciding whether they want to get hitched in Montana.
“We’ve talked about it,” Davis said. “And I’ve dreamt about it since I caught the bouquet at my best friend’s wedding, over a year ago.”
Dustin Nelson is a senior in the University of Montana’s School of Journalism. He is passionate about reporting on social issues, arts, and entertainment.