Senate approves bill allowing gay couples to file joint tax returns

Pro-civil unions rally at Colorado State Capitol. May 8, 2012.

Pro-civil unions rally at Colorado State Capitol. May 8, 2012.

DENVER — After an hour of debate, a proposal to allow gay couples legally married in other states to file jointly on their state tax returns got initial approval from the state senate Tuesday morning.

Senate Bill 19 was approved on an initial 18-16 vote that split lawmakers right down party lines with Democrats, who maintain a one-seat majority in the senate, voting yes and Republicans, one of whom was absent, all voting no.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, would tweak state statutes so that the formal filing status used on state tax returns is linked to a resident’s federal returns.

Sen. Pat Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, led the attack for Republicans, arguing that the proposal is a “gratuitous attack” on traditional marriage.

“We have an eight-page bill that does nothing but strike the word marriage out of state statute,” Harvey said, noting that the revised statute would make no mention of marriage as a qualification to file jointly. “This is a direct attack on the institution of marriage.”

Steadman’s proposal would simply state that a resident’s filing status on a state return mirror that on their federal return.

He scoffed at the notion that changing the state’s tax code was any sort of assault on marriage.

“It’s sort of like going back to the days of separate restrooms and water fountains for different groups of citizens,” Steadman said of the current law. “It doesn’t make sense that we don’t allow everyone to participate fairly, pay their taxes in an equal manner.”

Because the federal government now recognizes legally married same-sex couples regardless of where they reside, couples could file joint tax returns and receive all the benefits granted by that status even though gay marriage continues to be illegal in Colorado.

Steadman, who is gay, sponsored the legislation passed last year allowing Colorado LGBT couples to enter into civil unions.