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Opponents Seek Court Order to Block Same-Sex Couples Filing Joint Tax Returns

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With income tax filings already underway, opponents of same-sex marriage have gone to court to block Missouri same-sex couples from filing joint tax returns as allowed under Gov. Jay Nixon’s executive order.

The opponents, who include former St. Charles County Executive Joe Ortwerth, filed Wednesday in Cole County Circuit Court to obtain a temporary restraining order to block the state from allowing the joint tax filings until the lawsuit is resolved.

The court documents filed by the opponents claim that they and other Missouri taxpayers face “immediate irreparable harm’’ if the joint returns from same-sex couples are allowed. Among other things, the opponents contend that the joint filings will reduce the state’s tax revenue because joint filings often result in lower tax liabilities than individual tax returns.

The opponents had filed their lawsuit months ago, shortly after Nixon issued an executive order last fall allowing Missouri same-sex couples to file joint state tax returns – beginning with their 2013 taxes, now being filed -- if they were legally married in other states.

Nixon said he was simply complying with a state law that mandates that Missouri tax returns comply with federal tax returns regarding filing status.  If a couple files a joint federal return, they must be allowed to file a joint state one as well.

However, some social conservatives and allied groups said that Nixon’s order violated the state constitution’s same-sex marriage ban, put in place as a result of a 2004 statewide vote. Attorney General Chris Koster has sided with Nixon.  Koster's spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday on the opposition's request for a restraining order.

Besides Ortwerth, those filing the suit include Kerry Messer, president of Missouri Family Network, a socially conservative lobbying group. Ortwerth heads a similar group, the Missouri Family Policy Council.

The application for a restraining order is aimed at preventing Nixon’s administration from accepting or processing state tax returns while the broader court fight proceeds. If the judge grants the order, it could immediately affect same-sex couples who already have filed joint returns for 2013. Those tax returns must be filed by April 15.

A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO – the state’s largest advocacy group for LGBT rights -- said in an interview that the order -- if granted -- would force same-sex couples who already have filed their state returns to refile them as individual returns.  Bockelman said he saw no reason for the restraining order to be granted. He called the court request "a desperate attempt" to block Nixon's action.

"The only harm that I see is at the cost of the couples who have paid their taxes for years without having their relationship recognized,” he said. “Other states, such as Kansas where they also have a constitutional amendment (banning same-sex marriage), but do not allow joint filing, will require couples to file a total of five returns between state and federal. I fail to see how anyone is specifically harmed by a couple filing their taxes jointly."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.