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Warren introduces bill to unlock millions in tax refunds denied to gay couples

For years the IRS banned same-sex married couples from filing joint tax returns and saving on their taxes. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is trying to correct that.
Image: Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during the California Democratic Convention in San Francisco
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at the California Democratic Convention in San Francisco on June 1.Stephen Lam / Reuters file

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Thursday reintroduced the Refund Equality Act, a bill that would allow same-sex couples to amend past tax returns and receive refunds from the IRS.

“The federal government forced legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts to file as individuals and pay more in taxes for almost a decade,” Warren said in a statement. “We need to call out that discrimination and to make it right — Congress should pass the Refund Equality Act immediately.”

A report by the Joint Committee on Taxation released Tuesday estimated 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. Warren introduced a version of the bill in 2017.

Same-sex couples in nearly 10 states were permitted to legally marry on the state level prior to the Supreme Court's 2013 United States v. Windsor decision, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and permitted these couples to file joint federal tax returns.

At the time, the IRS said same-sex married couples could file amendments to their tax returns for the previous three years — the same amount of time for opposite-sex couples. However, gay couples in several states, including Warren's home state of Massachusetts, had been legally married for more than three years before the Windsor decision.

Two years to the day after United States v. Windsor, another landmark decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S.

Last week, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., introduced a companion bill in the House called the PRIDE Act of 2019. In an interview with NBC News, Chu said she thinks her bill might pick up some Republican support, particularly because several GOP representatives voted for the Equality Act, a bill passed by the House that would modify existing civil rights legislation to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list of protected classes, along with race, religion, color, sex, etc.

“After all, there are Democratic LGBT members and there are Republican LGBT couples, so they exist everywhere,” Chu said. “It is only right that we change this tax code to make it fairer for all.”

“I have hope that it could move, perhaps in a bigger bill, in which there could be a win-win for all sides on various issues,” she added.

On Thursday afternoon, after Chu spoke to NBC News, the PRIDE Act of 2019 was passed unanimously by voice vote in the House Ways and Means Committee.