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Understanding how California tax laws generally apply to same-sex married couples (SSMCs)

When did California tax laws begin to apply to SSMCs?

In In re Marriage Cases, (2008) 43 Cal. 4th 757, the California Supreme Court invalidated two sections of the Family Code that prevented same-sex couples from getting married. Under this ruling, same-sex couples are allowed to marry. As a result, questions have arisen regarding the California income tax treatment and filing obligations of same-sex married couples.

Are SSMCs considered "spouses" for California tax purposes, and are they required to file under the same rules as other married taxpayers?

Generally, the term "spouse" refers to an individual who is married to another individual. Pursuant to the California Supreme Court's decision in In re Marriage Cases, the Revenue and Taxation Code and those provisions of the Internal Revenue Code that are applicable for California income tax purposes, the term "spouse" includes every individual in a legal marriage recognized under California law, including an individual married to another individual of the same sex.

In general, taxpayers who are required to file a California income tax return, and who are married as of the last day of a taxable year, may file either a joint return or a married filing separately return. Pursuant to In re Marriage Cases, marriages of same-sex couples are valid marriages in this state. Consequently, SSMCs will be required to file either a joint California return or a married filing separately California return if they are married as of the last day of the taxable year.