Same-sex couple files joint NC tax return in protest

Mary Jamis (left) and Starr Johnson get postage for their North Carolina tax return from the downtown Winston-Salem post office. (Walt Unks/Journal)

Mary Jamis (left) and Starr Johnson get postage for their North Carolina tax return from the downtown Winston-Salem post office. (Walt Unks/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Mary Jamis and Starr Johnson probably weren’t the only couple to mail off their state tax return the day before the deadline, but theirs wasn’t a case of procrastination.

The same-sex couple hoped to make a statement at the height of tax season.

The Mocksville residents have been together for 14 years and legally married last year in New York. While they can jointly file federal income taxes as a married couple, the state of North Carolina – with its continued ban on same-sex marriage – instructs them to file state returns as single individuals.

As part of the “Refuse to Lie” campaign, Jamis and Johnson visited the downtown Winston-Salem post office on Monday to mail a joint state income tax return in protest. Friends and representatives from the Campaign for Southern Equality were standing by in support.

“We’re holding this up as an opportunity to say let’s revisit Amendment One and let’s look at that law as unconstitutional,” Jamis said.

The state legislature approved Amendment One – a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman – in 2012. The amendment is currently being challenged by lawsuits.

The federal government began recognizing same-sex marriages last year after the Supreme Court declared parts of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

Prior to that federal action, Nadine Smith of Equality Florida launched the Refuse to Lie campaign encouraging married same-sex couples to refuse to file separate returns.

The Campaign for Southern Equality expanded the campaign to North Carolina this year, and other couples across the state have taken the same action as Jamis and Johnson.

Jamis and Johnson attached a photo and a copy of their marriage certificate with their state return on Monday.They chose to send it by certified mail to draw more attention.

It cost them $6.70. Jamis works in Winston-Salem, so the downtown post office was convenient, and the process took only a few minutes.

They filed their federal return much earlier this year and saved an additional $4,000 by filing as a married couple.

“These kinds of actions financially impact the lives of LGBT couples across the state in so many ways, not only with tax returns but with health insurance benefits, with same-sex partner benefits,” Jamis said.

Johnson said everyone close to her and Jamis knows of their relationship and supports it.

“We have an opportunity to speak about this in a really positive and profound way that some couples really don’t. They’re worried about their jobs, they’re worried about family, they’re worried about friends discriminating against them. We don’t have to worry about that, so we must take the opportunity to speak out,” Johnson said.

Margaret Scales of Winston-Salem has known the couple for at least a decade and was on hand Monday to show her support. She believes it is only a matter of time before North Carolina recognizes same-sex marriages.

“I’m just sorry that our state is lagging behind the attitudes of the nation, which are shifting very quickly,” Scales said.

Johnson said they don’t know what to expect yet from the state revenue department and are not sure how they will respond if their return is rejected, but they will probably rely on counsel from groups such as the Campaign for Southern Equality.

Aaron Sarver, communications director with the Campaign for Southern Equality, said the organization does not have any tax filing litigation planned at this point. Activists are hopeful that North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban will be struck down this year by courts.

“I think we’re pretty confident that come next tax day … all married couples will be treated equally,” Sarver said.

Trevor Johnson, public information officer for the N.C. Department of Revenue, said he could not get into the specifics of how non-compliant returns are handled due to secrecy requirements. He referred back to the directive issued by the state last October.

The directive states that same-sex couples married in other states cannot file a North Carolina return using the married status and gives instructions on how to file as singles.

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