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Married, domestic partnership or something else?

While some states have legalized gay marriage, the federal government has not -- which puts many same-sex couples at a loss on how to properly file their federal taxes.

Tess Vigeland: Soooo just a reminder here, in case you haven't heard: Your taxes are due Tuesday by midnight. Oh right, we already told you that. Well if you thought your taxes were complicated? For some Americans, just trying to figure out exactly what they are to the government is a task in and of itself.

Gina Delvac explains.


Gina Delvac: It's probably the most straight forward part of the tax form. A choice of boxes: Single or married. Simple, right? Not if you happen to be in a same-sex marriage.

Leslie Schafer: The first thing that we've done -- which we've never done before -- is we hired an accountant, because we had absolutely no idea what to do.

Leslie Schafer got married in Connecticut in 2009. She and her spouse recently moved to Los Angeles.

Schafer: We are told by one person that we have a domestic partnership equivalent. But we're also told by someone else from the state who told us that it has no name. Literally, the state of California told us, no, your relationship has no name.

California wants her to file jointly, like a married couple. So checking the box on the state form is easy. But the federal paperwork makes her a liar, no matter which box she checks.

The Defense of Marriage Act means unions like hers have no legal status in the eyes of the federal government. And that means couples in those unions are not allowed to file jointly on their federal return even if they do for their state. That adds up to a lot of confusion -- and a lot of added expense.

Tom Watson organized a recent meeting for same-sex couples in Los Angeles trying to navigate these uncertain waters.

Tom Watson: Our tax returns are extremely expensive to do and extremely cumbersome. And we would much rather be treated fairly and equitably like all other couples that have been together for a long time. My partner and I have been together for 14 years.

The IRS is making some effort to acknowledge same-sex marriage. New rules in Nevada, California and Washington let partners to split their incomes over two returns. CPA David Paddock says, that makes the filing process even more complicated.

David Paddock: Well, actually, if you're in a relationship, you have to do a federal mock return for California, and then you have to do two federal returns, one for yourself and one for your partner. So you're really preparing three federal returns by the time you're done prepping all of your returns.

Until a solution emerges, gay couples will have to keep scratching their heads about how best to tell the truth on their taxes -- probably for a few Aprils to come.

In Los Angeles, I'm Gina Delvac for Marketplace.

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