Updated: 4:00 p.m. CST
NEW ORLEANS — Four married gay couples have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Louisiana Constitution’s prohibition against recognizing same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.
At a news conference Wednesday with officials of Forum for Equality Louisiana, two of the couples said their daughters were their main reason for joining the suit. Louisiana won’t recognize both members of a same-sex union as parents of a child born to them or adopted.
The parents say if their child has an emergency, their partners sometimes need to be able to approve their care.
The lawsuit also says the marriage recognition ban forces married same-sex couples who file joint federal tax returns to lie on their state returns, saying they’re single.
Forum attorney Dalton Courson says that violates their free speech, and the group’s lawsuit attacks the marriage recognition ban on several fronts.
For instance, it says state revenue department policy, based on the ban, essentially requires married same-sex couples who file joint federal tax returns to falsely claim they are single on state returns – a violation, the Forum says, of free speech.
The lawsuit also challenges the state’s refusal to recognize both members of a same-sex union as parents of a child born to them or adopted.
A 2004 amendment to the Louisiana Constitution says marriage in the state “shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman,” and goes on to prohibit state officials or courts from recognizing a marriage “contracted in any other jurisdiction which is not the union of one man and one woman.” Currently, 17 states allow same-sex marriage.
In their suit, the New Orleans-based Forum and the four couples say the ban violates their equal protection and free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Their suit follows months of legal research following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The June 26 decision struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
That ruling led to a series of federal policy announcements regarding same-sex unions. One that comes into play in the Louisiana case is the Internal Revenue Service policy allowing legally married gay couples to file joint federal tax returns, even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.
Louisiana law directs taxpayers to use the same status on state tax returns that they use on federal returns. Because of the state constitution’s ban, the revenue department requires that a gay couple filing as married on a federal tax return must file a Louisiana return as single or head of household.
That policy essentially forces married couples who file joint federal returns to face different tax liabilities than other married couples in the state, the Forum maintains. And it requires them to falsely deny their marital status, the lawsuit says.
The legal challenge also addresses other instances in which legally married gay couples are treated differently from married opposite-sex couples, noting that same-sex spouses are denied inheritance rights when one dies; and that only one parent in a gay marriage is recognized on a child’s birth certificate, posing a host of potential problems for the non-recognized parent if, for instance, the child needs parental permission for medical treatment.
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