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Gay and Lesbian Couples Impacted by U.S. Tax Court Holding on Joint Filing

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Gay rights activist, author and artist Charles Merrill was denied joint filing status by the United States Tax Court. The court's holding requires Merrill pay the federal government nearly a million dollars for not paying taxes in 2004 and 2005, a time during which he and his partner were publicly committed and residing in North Carolina. While living in that state, Merrill was prohibited from filing jointly due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), yet he couldn't legally marry due to North Carolina law.

Merrill, who is bisexual, moved with his partner Kevin Boyle to California, where they married and have lived since 2008. He was also married for 23 years to Evangeline Johnson, the only daughter of Johnson & Johnson founder Robert Wood Johnson. Having experienced the tax-code benefits afforded to straight, married couples, he realized firsthand exactly how unfair the laws were when applied to same-sex couples.

"When the court recognizes the legality of same-sex marriage and the unconstitutionality of DOMA, and removes any possibility for persecution of what is my right, then I will gladly pay toward the system -- but not until then," Merrill says. "I'm pleased to receive the support and recognition of so many people who grasp the seriousness of this fundamental flaw within our country's laws. Their great attention to this issue gives me hope for change. I've committed no crime here, but the laws that have been placed against me and so many other gay couples nationwide are most certainly a crime against humanity."

As a consequence of not paying the taxes deemed owed by the U.S. Tax Courts in this case, Merrill could face prison time. Failure to make payment on the judgment is a misdemeanor, whereas filing jointly under DOMA is a felony (1996, Mueller vs. Commissioner). While Merrill does have tax attorneys interested in pursing the case, the activist says the courts move slowly and that time is on his side. His age, 75, is to his advantage, he says, and that's yet another reason to remain hopeful about and true to his mission, and ignore government intimidation.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)

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