Court rules for gay couples in Kansas tax case

? A district court judge in Topeka ruled Friday that the Kansas Department of Revenue’s former policy of not allowing same-sex married couples to file joint tax returns is not only unconstitutional now, but was unconstitutional from the day it began, according to one of the attorneys involved in the case.

David Brown, a Lawrence attorney who sued the department in 2013 on behalf of two married gay couples, including one from Lawrence, said Judge Frank Theis issued a ruling from the bench Friday, saying the department’s policy of not allowing legally married gay couples to file joint tax returns was unconstitutional from the outset, not just since the U.S. Supreme Court declared gay marriages legal last month.

“I am thrilled for my clients,” Brown said. “We had argued all along that the state’s efforts to discriminate against same-sex couples was unconstitutional. This is a total vindication of my clients’ position.”

As yet, however, Brown said the decision applies only to the couples in the lawsuit and not to all married gay couples in similar situations.

“He said he was not going to turn it into a class action suit,” Brown said. “I filed the case on behalf of my clients, so the decision deals with only my clients.”

In 2013, the Department of Revenue issued a policy that said gay couples in Kansas who were legally married in other states still could not file joint tax returns in Kansas, even though they could file jointly on their federal returns.

The policy came in response to actions in several other states that had either legalized gay marriage or had their bans against it declared unconstitutional. It was based on an amendment in the Kansas Constitution, approved by voters in 2005, that defined marriage strictly as a union between one man and one woman, and barring the state of Kansas from recognizing any other kind of marriage.

Brown filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Revenue’s policy shortly after it was issued on behalf of two married gay couples, Roberta and Julie Woodrick, from Lawrence, and Michael Nelson and Charles Dedmon, from Alma.

But in 2014, as the case was proceeding toward trial, Shawnee County District Judge Frank Theis put it on hold, pending the outcome of other cases in federal courts challenging state bans against same-sex marriage.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all such bans, effectively legalizing same-sex marriages nationwide. Shortly after that, the Department of Revenue rescinded its policy.

Following that, the department pushed to have the tax lawsuit dismissed, saying the issue was moot because the policy had been rescinded. But it also argued that its action rescinding the policy should have no retroactive effect, Brown said.

Ruling from the bench, Theis said that that it should be retroactive, and that the two couples should be allowed to file amended tax returns for prior years, something the department has not yet said it is willing to do.

Officials from the Department of Revenue were not immediately available for comment Friday.