Analysis: La. at Odds With Federal Benefits Rules
Federal regulations are loosening to offer more benefits to same-sex married couples around the nation, but not so in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is complicating how couples can get those federal benefits.
Leaders in the Jindal administration made two decisions last month that are at odds with federal policies, and in one instance put legally married gay couples out of compliance with state law:
-The state revenue department said it won't recognize same-sex marriages for tax filings, despite a new IRS rule that allows legally married gay couples to file joint federal tax returns and a Louisiana law requiring taxpayers to use the same filing status on state and federal tax forms.
-The Louisiana National Guard said it won't process requests from same-sex couples seeking benefits, despite a Pentagon directive to do so. National Guard personnel have to instead seek to file benefit requests with federal military installations around the state for processing.
The leaders of both agencies were appointed by Jindal, a gay marriage opponent. In both instances, the agencies cited Louisiana's constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Approved by lawmakers and voters in 2004, the Louisiana Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman and declares a legal status of marriage for any other couples "shall not be valid or recognized."
Joe Traigle is a Baton Rouge businessman, former state revenue secretary and a gay rights activist. He said the Jindal administration makes such decisions as part of a "proven record of pandering to the bigoted and intolerant segment of people in Louisiana."
On the tax issue, Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield takes the position that Louisiana's constitution trumps a state law that directs taxpayers to use the same status on state tax returns that they use on federal returns.
"Louisiana's secretary of revenue is bound to support and uphold the Constitution and laws of the state of Louisiana, and any recognition of a same-sex filing status in Louisiana as promulgated in (the new Internal Revenue Service rule) would be a clear violation of Louisiana's Constitution," Barfield wrote in his directive on the issue.
Barfield's decision leaves same-sex couples in a tricky situation.
The U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS issued new rules saying all legally married gay couples will be able to file joint federal tax returns even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
The decision was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June that invalidated a section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
But if gay couples who were legally married in other states and now live in Louisiana want to get the federal tax benefits offered to married couples, they have to work out a way to file differing tax statuses at the federal and state levels.
Barfield said a gay couple filing as married on a federal tax return must file a separate Louisiana return as single or head of household.
For the National Guard benefits, the decision by Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, the state's adjutant general, doesn't leave military personnel choosing between state law and federal regulations. But it does make accessing the newly available benefits allowed by the Pentagon more difficult for same-sex couples in Louisiana.
"It is very sad for Bobby Jindal to say to our Louisiana citizens in uniform, both men and women, that their individual rights don't matter," Traigle said.
National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Kazmierzak said the Guard isn't denying same-sex benefits, just requiring that people file their requests at federal military installations. That's an extra bureaucratic hurdle other married couples don't have.
"The state of Louisiana's constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage, nor does it allow a state official to take part in an act that recognizes same-sex marriage," Kazmierzak said when he explained Curtis' decision last month.
It's likely this won't be the last time that federal regulations are at odds with the state's policies on gay marriage. It seems likely judges in Louisiana will be left sifting through lawsuits to determine where same-sex couples stand in the state.