As part of the Refuse to Lie campaign, same-sex couples in North Carolina have been filing joint state tax returns this year to protest state laws that require them to file separate returns. The protest is backed by Campaign for Southern Equality, whose goal is to protest Amendment One of North Carolina's constitution, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, said Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director at Campaign for Southern Equality.
In its first year taking place North Carolina, the campaign is working directly with several couples. Beach-Ferrara also estimated there to be several dozen couples in North Carolina who have filed a joint tax return in protest.
“The emphasis here is having [same-sex] couples take a stand,” Beach-Ferrara said, “The campaign is here to shine the light on how Amendment One affects real people and real couples in North Carolina.”
The United States Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, allowing legally married same-sex couples to file their federal tax returns jointly. But because North Carolina does not recognize same-sex marriage, same-sex spouses who filed their federal taxes together are also required to complete a separate state tax return, according to a directive from the North Carolina Department of Revenue.
In addition to the hassle resulting from filing extra tax returns and additional payments to accountants, many couples also lose out on financial benefits associated with marriage when they file their taxes individually, Beach-Ferrara said. Couples have received refunds for filing their federal tax returns jointly, but they do not receive the same benefits for filing state tax returns.
Mary Jamis, a participant of the Refuse to Lie campaign, said that she and her partner received an additional 4,000 dollars in refund for filing their federal tax jointly this year.
Not all couples will benefit financially from filing jointly, however. In some cases, couples can actually end up paying more taxes when they file jointly than when they file separately, depending on their income levels. But Beach-Ferrara emphasized that the campaign's primary focus is still on attaining recognition for same-sex marriages, not just the potential financial benefits.
Participants in the campaign also risk incurring fines or criminal charges for protesting, but they are aware of and prepared for the consequences. The Campaign for Southern Equality will work closely with couples to handle possible consequences, she added.
The Department of Revenue employs a variety of techniques to identify noncompliant returns, said Trevor Johnson, the department's public affairs director, in an email Wednesday. Johnson declined to comment on possible consequences that couples may face for filing jointly when they are directed to file separately due to "secrecy requirements."
Jamis said that she and her partner included their marriage license and a picture of them being married along with the joint tax return that they filed.
“It is possible that the government may just overlook a joint tax return filed by a same-sex couple and give us the benefits, but that’s not what we want,” Jamis said. “We want them to see clearly that this return is filed by a lesbian couple.”
Jamis has been a proponent of legalizing same-sex marriages in North Carolina for a number of years. Several years ago she was arrested for trespassing when she refused to leave the register’s office after her request for a marriage license with her same-sex partner was turned down.
“We will continue to challenge the laws and fight for what we believe in without fear of the consequences,” Jamis said.
She expressed hope that Amendment One will be overturned before consequences are applied.
“Things are starting to turn around," Jamis said. "We just need to be patient and persistent at the same time."