Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants to pay back LGBT couples for taxes they paid into the federal government, which they paid at a higher rate because they were denied joint status.
While reparations for slavery were front and center during last week’s congressional testimony, Warren wants to see reparations paid to LGBT couples who were denied the marriage tax breaks.
It wasn’t until marriage equality became law that gay & lesbian couples could jointly file tax returns—so they paid more in taxes. Our government owes them more than $50M for the years our discriminatory tax code left them out. We must right these wrongs. https://t.co/OZQcfVilSs
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 23, 2019
Warren is the first 2020 presidential candidate to propose a policy of this type, and her announcement has been getting mixed reviews. Here are five things to know about her plan:
What is the issue?
In the United States, married couples are allowed to file joint taxes, which can result in a lesser payment to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) because of tax deductions. The tax perks of being married range from small benefits, like only having to file one tax return, to more substantial benefits, like the potential to drop down a tax bracket.
The problem is that there were couples legally married in eight states following Massachusetts’ decision to allowed same-sex marriages in 2004, but the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevented same-sex couples from filing their federal taxes together.
This policy stood until it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor in 2013. While same-sex couples could amend their taxes, they were only allowed to file three years’ worth of amends. In states like Massachusettes, couples lost out on joint filing benefits from 2004 to 2010.
What is Warren’s plan?
Warren wants to return the excess money paid into the IRS by LGBT couples while they couldn’t legally marry. The senator introduced a bill that would allow couples to amend their taxes from the years they were denied joint status while legally married in their home state.
In a statement, Warren said:
The federal government forced legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts to file as individuals and pay more in taxes for almost a decade. We need to call out that discrimination and to make it right — Congress should pass the Refund Equality Act immediately.
This would likely result in large tax returns to same-sex couples that were not allowed to make a joint filing. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the IRS would have to return as much as $57 million owed to same-sex couples if Warren’s bill became law.
Who would qualify?
This is not a mass tax return to all LGBT couples. The scope of Warren’s bill is limited to just those who were legally married in their home states prior to the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA in 2013. Those states include Massachusettes, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, and Maine.
However, couples in New Hampshire, New York, Washington, and Maine should have had at least one year to amend their taxes, considering they were only allowed to marry within the three-year window following the DOMA ruling, so it is not clear if they will be included.
Her plan does not include long-term LGBT couples who were denied marriage licenses prior to the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015.
What are people saying about Warren’s plan?
Many see Warren’s plan as a concrete way to return tax dollars to LGBT couples that were legally married but not legally allowed to file joint taxes and make up for the disadvantages caused by the former policy.
We allow amended tax returns every year for a number of reasons. This seams fair to me https://t.co/BZBPHTuK7V
— Skylar Baker-Jordan (@SkylarJordan) June 23, 2019
When I tell my story of why I got involved this was a critical moment for me. The government said my mom made too much money & she could not prove that she was the sole financial caretaker of a family of 3. I can’t believe this is now being talked about by a president candidate.
— Nelini Stamp 🖤 (@NelStamp) June 23, 2019
Warren’s plan has faced a lot of criticism from those who claim she is just jumping on the reparations bandwagon to pander to the LGBT community ahead of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
You get a reparation! And you get a reparation! And you get a reparation! Everybody gets a reparation! https://t.co/4sdiTWuuhj
— Katie Herzog (@kittypurrzog) June 23, 2019
She’s really calling for gay reparations. These people are officially beyond parody. https://t.co/wgcEVrp9dz
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) June 23, 2019
“Okay I’m gay let’s get married.”
*President Warren mails check for $1,500
This was literally an Adam Sandler movie. https://t.co/Av4zoA5o5N
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) June 23, 2019
Others noted that LGBT couples would likely not recover as much from the IRS as they could lose if Warren makes good on her promise to repeal the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
How about not undoing the 2017 tax cut, from which the vast majority of LGBT taxpayers benefited? https://t.co/bhmV2WiDBx
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) June 23, 2019
While Warren’s plan is technically a reparation strategy for the LGBT community, it differs greatly from the racial reparations proposed by some Democrats to right the wrongs of slavery.
How is this different than plans for racial reparations?
The main difference lies in the scope of Warren’s plan.
The senator has a clearly defined group of people who would be able to amend their taxes and receive the return. A plan for racial reparations isn’t as cut-and-dry because there are no living slaves in the U.S. and it is hard to know where to draw the line.
No one has come up with a concrete answer for what qualifies someone for a racial reparation, which is why Congress has resorted to voting to fund a study on reparations rather than an actual plan.