(Editor’s note: Today, June 21, is the third anniversary of the very happy marriage of attorney and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal activist Tom Carpenter and his beloved husband Art Andrade. As one of the approximately 18,000 same sex couples legally married in California, Tom took a particular interest in the case of Gene Balas and Carlos Morales. The couple won a very significant ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act in federal bankruptcy court as a result of US Attorney General Holder’s directive that DOMA would no longer be defended in federal court. House Speaker John Boehner announced that the House would take up the defense DOMA – at a high cost to taxpayers. Tom and Art got an extension on their taxes but intend to file jointly as a married couple in October. But the case and their impending filing got Tom thinking about how filing joint tax returns may in-and-of-itself be a kind of direct action non-violent civil disobedience (similar to the Refuse to Lie campaign last April) – one that may drive the public to question Boehner’s defense of DOMA, tax lawsuit-by-tax lawsuit. He explains here – Karen Ocamb)
Tax Filings as Direct Action Against DOMA
By Tom Carpenter
So what do federal bankruptcy debtors Gene Balas and Carlos Morales have in common with former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, GetEQUAL and the 18,000 legally married LGBT couples in California? A lot.
As I wrote in my blog on Monday, Gene and Carlos decided they were mad as hell and wouldn’t take it any more. When President Obama directed Attorney General Holder to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), (see letter here) they merely demanded the same rights as any legally married couple and instead of filing individual bankruptcy petitions filed a joint one. In spite of Holder’s directive, the U.S Bankruptcy Trustee moved to dismiss the joint petition. This led to a ruling on June 13, 2011, signed by 20 of the 24 Federal Bankruptcy judges in the Central District of California, declaring DOMA unconstitutional. In doing so, these judges sent a strong message that all legal marriages must be treated the same under the law.
In contrast to this below the radar attack on inequality, my good friend Dan Choi and GetEQUAL have taken a different road. Some in our community, as well as others, have been very critical of the direct action tactics employed by them. I need only remind us that in any successful movement to change the status quo, direct action was a necessary component. We don’t have to go back far in history to see that this is a true. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King, it was direct action that was the final tipping point that led to victory. In our community’s history we see the same thing. Until ACT UP, the AIDS pandemic received little attention in Washington. I would submit that the direct action by ACT UP again was a tipping point in the struggle to get the Federal Government to finally recognize this tragedy and take action.
Last year, after 17 years of organizations such as Servicemembers Legal Defense Network playing the” inside game”, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was at a critical point in the legislative process. We are all well aware how close we came to failure. Before last year, there had been direct action by SoulForce against military recruiters that had helped bring some attention to the injustice of DADT. It can be argued, that it was the direct action of Dan Choi and the other veterans, supported by GetEQUAL, at a critical period during the debate in Congress that focused public attention on this un-American law and was a tipping point.
What about the 18,000 LGBT married couples in California? They have already participated in direct action and my bet is, most don’t even realize it.
By standing up for love, and demanding that their relationships be recognized and afforded the same rights and
responsibilities as every other married couple, they have confronted head on a system that has treated them as second-class citizens.
For many years, I have told anyone who would listen about the three-legged stool of intolerance and bigotry- the 3 “M”s – Military, Marriage and Ministry. When any one of those legs collapsed, the rest would follow. We are seeing that happening today. But how can we accelerate the inevitable march to equality?
There is one thing our opponents have and understand: money. Now that the Department of Justice will no longer be defending DOMA, as reported in my last blog, the Speaker of the House has retained a private law firm to do so. This will cost money that needs to come from somewhere. How can we make this undertaking so expensive that the House cannot fund it under the present budgetary constraints?
Let us take a lesson from Gene and Carlos. Some may say thankfully, we have little direct contact with the Federal Government. Like this couple, a few married LGBT couples who are in financial distress, may need the assistance of a Federal bankruptcy court. While this may be rare, one thing is clear: we all have to pay Federal Income Tax.
On April 15 every year, we must file our tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Because of DOMA, the 18,000 legally married LGBT couples in California, like Gene and Carlos, cannot file Joint federal tax returns, but under California law are required to file joint California state tax returns. Unlike any other married couple in California who can file joint federal tax returns, LGBT couples must prepare two single federal returns to be filed with the IRS, and then a dummy joint federal return to be attached to and filed with the California joint tax return. Every person who has to prepare his or her own tax return or pay for an accountant to handle this onerous task, can see this requirement is unfair, burdensome and expensive.
Now connect the dots: Boehner has no budget to defend DOMA. What would happen if every legally married LGBT couple in California filled a joint federal tax return next April? What would happen if every legally married LGBT couple around the country decided to claim the Social Security Benefits for a deceased spouse? And what about the other 1100+ benefits DOMA deny us?
Thanks to Gene and Carlos, we may now see a way forward.