Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of Asheville is having a hard time doing her taxes. You see, the Brown University and Harvard Divinity School graduate is married. To another woman. So the federal government lets her file jointly. North Carolina frowns upon that. She wrote about it for the Observer:
As tax season approaches, I imagine that many North Carolinians can relate to the experience of searching for receipts you filed (or, like me, misplaced), punching numbers into tax software and, well, hoping for the best. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families in North Carolina, however, filing taxes isn't just another daunting item on the to-do list. It is a crystal-clear example of what discrimination looks like in 2014.Like my wife and me, every married same-sex couple I know in our state is wrestling with taxes. The federal government recognizes same-sex marriage and we can now file our federal taxes jointly. But because of Amendment One, the N.C. Department of Revenue has instructed married same-sex couples to file state taxes as single. When I called for clarification, I was told that North Carolina does not recognize our marriage as "valid." In other words, we are being told to lie on our state taxes.
For some married couples, filing state taxes as single means they face an additional tax burden; for other couples, it means they owe less in taxes. Regardless, LGBT people are ready to assume both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. But, for now, North Carolina's laws and policies continue to treat LGBT people as second-class citizens.
It doesn't have to be this way. Institutions can adapt policies to respond to the changing realities of the communities they serve. For example, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order allowing married same-sex couples to file state taxes as married, despite a state law banning same-sex marriage.
Closer to home, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC just implemented an admirable new policy that allows married same-sex couples to enroll as families in health care plans through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace. Previously, the insurer was cancelling the family policies of married same-sex couples because their marriages are not recognized in North Carolina. Announcing the change, Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Brad Wilson said, "We should have more thoughtfully considered this decision, with full appreciation of the impact it would have on same-sex married couples and domestic partners. We're sorry we failed to do so."
In contrast, the state of North Carolina continues to enforce and defend a discriminatory law, arguing that the state has a legitimate interest in banning same-sex marriage. The reality is that Amendment One is nothing more than an expression of bias against LGBT people. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that laws driven by animus are inherently unconstitutional. Ultimately, Amendment One will be struck down for this very reason.
That day cannot come soon enough. As long as Amendment One remains on the books, LGBT people in North Carolina will experience discrimination in many spheres of life -- including taxation, employment, housing, adoption and marriage. This cradle to grave discrimination is often invisible to those not affected by it. But increasingly, it is on public display for all to see. The question is how long fair-minded North Carolinians will allow this to continue.
Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of Asheville is a minister in the United Church of Christ and executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, which promotes LGBT equality across North Carolina and the South.