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Franchot: Maryland policy will change to allow joint filing for gay couples

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Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot vowed Wednesday to pursue any legislative or regulatory fixes necessary to allow the state's married same-sex couples to file joint state-level income tax returns.

Mr. Franchot, a Democrat, made the announcement Wednesday in response to a report in The Washington Times that outlined how Maryland has no policy in place to allow same-sex joint filing and which quoted a comptroller's spokeswoman as saying the state cannot enact such a policy because of current federal restrictions.

Maryland is the only income-tax-collecting state that allows same-sex marriage but does not have a law in place requiring that gay couples file a joint state tax return or declare themselves as married while filing separately.

The comptroller clarified Wednesday that state officials can enact such a law, even if the federal Defense of Marriage Act continues to bar joint federal returns, refuting an earlier statement by spokeswoman Kim Frum, who said the state can only do so if federal law changes.

Mr. Franchot said in a statement that the story in The Times contained "significant misinformation" on the subject, which his communications director, Joseph Shapiro, said was due to "a problem on [their] end."

"The main point is that we don't have to wait for federal action to change how same-sex couples file in Maryland," Mr. Shapiro said. "This is an instance where the state legislature in the upcoming session can change the state tax law to allow same-sex filing."

Gay couples in Maryland who were married elsewhere must file separate state returns because the federal adjusted gross income calculated in their separately filed federal returns must be used as the starting point for Maryland taxes.

Spouses in other gay-marriage states must still file separate federal returns, but they also fill out an additional, hypothetical federal return as a couple. The federal adjusted gross income from that return is used as the starting point for their joint state return.

The method is used in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and the District. New Hampshire and Washington, which also allow gay marriage, do not have a state income tax.

Mr. Franchot, who testified last year in favor of Maryland's gay marriage bill, said he will push for a fix that would allow the state's gay couples to file joint 2013 returns in early 2014.

He said legislation or regulatory changes will be required "because Maryland's tax code is conjoined to the IRS unless specifically decoupled."

Maryland's same-sex marriage law goes into effect Jan. 1, meaning it won't have tax implications for newly married couples until the 2014 tax season.

"Honoring Maryland's hard-earned reputation for fairness and equality, this change will afford same-sex couples with the rights and protections commensurate with their obligations as taxpayers," Mr. Franchot said in the statement.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery Democrat, said he thinks a bill to allow same-sex joint filing would be relatively noncontroversial, and he even challenged Republicans to support such a proposal on grounds that it could reduce some couples' tax burdens.

"The issue of same-sex marriage has already been adjudicated by the people of Maryland," said Mr. Barve, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee that vets tax proposals. "To me, the issue is one of treating same-sex married couples the same as all other married couples."

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