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Earlier today, Senator Elizabeth Warren reintroduced the Refund Equality Act. This bill would enable same-sex couples who were legally married, but barred from filing federal tax returns as a married couple, to amend affected tax returns and receive tax refunds. The Joint Committee on Taxation released a report earlier this week, which estimates that taxpayers who were in same-sex marriages prior to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 would be eligible for up to $57 million in refunds. 

This bill specifically addresses same-sex couples who were married in states where same-sex marriage was recognized in the time before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor. Prior to the Windsor decision, same-sex couples who were legally married in states such as New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and several others were barred from filing their federal income tax returns as “married filing jointly”. They were forced to file their federal returns as two single persons even as they were filing their state tax returns as married couples. The result, in many cases, was that these couples paid a higher total amount of income tax than they would have had they been permitted to file jointly as a married couple.

This bill, which was initially proposed by Senator Warren in 2017, would permit same-sex couples who were married during the affected period to amend their tax returns and seek refunds, even though the change of law occurred more than three years after such tax returns were filed.

Pennsylvania began to recognize same-sex marriage after the 2014 Middle District decision Whitewood v. Wolf, New Jersey began to recognize same-sex marriage after Garden State Equality v. Dow in 2013, and Delaware began to recognize same-sex marriages by statute in 2013. Prior to those developments, which were before the Windsor decision, many same-sex couples from our region would travel to other states where they could get legally married. Thus, there is potential that same-sex couples residing in Pennsylvania could benefit from this legislation if it is enacted. 

If you have questions, or would like additional information, please contact Steve Asbel, Partner in Reger Rizzo & Darnall’s Estates & Trusts Group, at 215.495.6513, or via email at