Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday he is directing state tax officials to accept tax returns jointly filed by same-sex couples who have legally married in other states.
The Democratic governor said the executive order applies solely to tax filing status and does not authorize or sanction same-sex marriage in Missouri, which has a constitutional provision stating marriages must be between a man and a woman to be valid and recognized.
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Missouri’s tax code is tied to that of the federal government, and Nixon said married couples who file joint federal tax returns also must file state taxes jointly. The U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service this year said legally married same-sex couples would be treated as married regardless of where they live. The decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Nixon said accepting jointly filed state returns for couples who file joint federal returns is appropriate.
“This is not about the definition of marriage,” he said. “This is about the structure of our tax code.”
Missouri in 2004 became the first state to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage after the Massachusetts high court permitted gay marriage there. The measure was approved by 70 percent of the vote.
Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones said Thursday that Nixon is trying to play all sides of the issue by “indulging his liberal ideals” while hedging his bet by stating the courts had “forced his hand.”
“This executive order is nothing but an attempt to violate the voters’ will, unlawfully ignoring a constitutional amendment to provide the governor’s liberal allies a policy victory,” said Jones, R-Eureka.
Speaking at a news conference at the state Capitol, Nixon said recognition of same-sex marriage is a separate question from the tax filing issue. However, he said he hopes voters will have a chance to revisit that. Nixon won re-election last year and is barred by term limits from seeking a third term as governor.
“I just don’t think we should treat folks differently in this zone anymore,” he said. “I think if folks want to get married, they should be able to get married.”
PROMO, a statewide organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, said Missouri is the lone state to let same-sex couples file jointly as married while not recognizing same-sex marriages. The organization said Colorado and Oregon have issued similar instructions but that Colorado has state civil unions and Oregon recognizes out-of-state marriages for same-sex couples.
“We certainly are pleased to see this because it provides guidance to the same-sex couples who are legally married from other states and currently reside in Missouri,” PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman said.
In 2010, Nixon issued an executive order expanding nondiscrimination policies to cover sexual orientation and military service. The order applied to the executive branch of state government and states that people cannot be treated differently based on sexual orientation or veteran status for jobs and various state services such as licensing, job training and financial assistance.
Missouri bars discrimination based upon race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex and disability in employment, housing and public accommodations. For housing, discrimination based on familial status also is banned, and for employment, discrimination based on age is not allowed. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not covered.
Proposals to bar discrimination based upon sexual orientation have been considered in the Legislature but not passed.