Eight Democratic senators have written to the Internal Revenue Service urging the agency to address problems faced by same-sex couples while filing their 2010 federal income tax returns.

The letter, sent to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, outlines specific issues that made it difficult for same-sex couples to accurately file tax returns and calls on the IRS to provide these couples with the guidance they need to comply with the law.  

The letter was signed by Senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. 

“Today, each of our states recognizes same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships that the federal government does not recognize,” they wrote. “When couples in these relationships attempted to calculate their tax returns this year, they encountered significant problems…We respectfully request that you to take steps to provide appropriate guidance to these couples.”

They noted that the IRS should address some of the specific problems encountered by couples in California, Washington, and Nevada, where state community property laws apply. In each of those states, same-sex couples who are married or in registered domestic partnerships must pool and then divide their incomes to calculate their tax liability, the lawmakers noted. 

“The federal tax system, however, currently has no means of linking an individual’s tax return to that of his or her spouse or domestic partner,” they wrote. “As a result, underpayment penalties may be wrongly assessed or the system may incorrectly register that overpayments have been made. Similarly, when one person is self-employed, Social Security credits and tax liabilities may be wrongly attributed to the taxpayer who is not self-employed. These administrative difficulties threaten to add additional, unacceptable burdens to couples that already went to great lengths to file accurate returns.”

The senators noted that some, but not all, of these problems would be solved by repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and they said they support repeal of that law.

“Until the full Congress acts, however, it is essential that the IRS take steps to ensure that couples have the guidance they need to file accurate tax returns under current law and that an administrative system be in place to recognize accurate returns when they are filed,” they added.

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