DENVER- As Colorado state lawmakers go back into session this week, a proxy fight over gay marriage is brewing in the form a proposed change to Colorado tax law.
A vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) says he has found a way to remove one of the biggest inequalities facing committed gay couples in Colorado: the inability to file joint tax returns.
"Because of the US Supreme court ruling last June, the IRS now recognizes same-sex marriages," Steadman told 9NEWS. "But because of a [state] constitutional prohibition, Colorado does not."
Steadman will introduce a bill this week aimed at allowing same-sex couples a way around that, saying that his proposal merely ensures that Colorado state tax law uses the filing status listed on taxpayers' federal tax returns, regardless of whether the state recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples.
In practical terms, Steadman says, this legal change would enable same-sex couples who are legally married in other states to move to Colorado and continue filing jointly.
The change would not enable Colorado couples who enter into recently-legalized civil unions to file jointly, but those couples would have the option of getting married in another state where same-sex marriage is legal and then claiming married status on both their federal and state taxes in Colorado.
Opponents of same-sex marriage do not see this as a mere tax tweak. They view it as a violation of the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
"I think it flies in the face of our state constitution," said Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch.) "The constitutional language on this question is fairly clear that Colorado is not going to recognize same-sex marriages."
Steadman says his bill does not run afoul of the constitution because it does not expressly recognize same-sex marriage, but clarifies that the federal tax filing status is what determines how state taxes are filed.
"The new law clarifies that this isn't about marital status," Steadman said.
The legal language may not be crafted to legitimize same-sex marriage, but political opponents say that's precisely what underlying policy would do.
As for a full-fledged effort to legalize same-sex marriage, Steadman says he won't be sponsoring such an effort this year.
He predicts none of his fellow LGBT caucus members will do so, either.
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