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NPR Touts Tax Savings for Same-Sex Couples If DOMA is Struck Down

Carrie Johnson, NPR Correspondent; Screen Cap From June 2012 PBS NewsHour Broadcast | MRC.orgOn Tuesday's Morning Edition, NPR's Carrie Johnson played up the positive financial impact for same-sex couples if the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act. All of Johnson's talking heads came from the left side of the political spectrum – the plaintiff challenging the 1996 law at the Supreme Court; an accountant who caters to same-sex couples; a fellow for the liberal Tax Policy Center; and an openly homosexual law professor.

The correspondent touted how the litigant before the Supreme Court "inherited a huge estate tax bill – a bill she would have avoided if her marriage had been recognized under federal law."

Johnson led her report with a soundbite from Edie Windsor, whose case – United States v. Windsor – will be argued before the Court on Wednesday. Just before giving her "huge estate tax bill" line, the journalist outlined that "married her partner of more than 40 years in Canada back in 2007. Their relationship was recognized by the State of New York, where they lived together."

The NPR correspondent continued with a clip from Nanette Lee Miller, an "accountant who works with gay and lesbian clients", and noted that same-sex couples "don't get a marital deduction for estate tax purposes, so they usually need access to cash or life insurance to be able to inherit their partner's share of a home or other assets. That could change, if the high court rules for Edie Windsor."

Later in the segment, Johnson played soundbites from the Tax Policy Center's Roberton Williams, who spotlighted "DOMA's tax hassles for same-sex couples" in a Wednesday article; and Santa Clara University law professor Patricia Cain, who is a former board member for the homosexual activist group Lambda Legal.

Near the end of her report, the NPR correspondent hyped that some of Miller's customers "have been surprised to find out they could pay the dreaded marriage penalty." Johnson pointed out that "she [Miller] tells them that's just a price of equality."

The public radio network has a long record of left-wing slant on the same-sex "marriage" issue. Ari Shapiro, who is an open homosexual, touted the "barely controversial" Defense Department directive which extended benefits to same-sex couples during a February 2013 report. Back in 2011, correspondent Tovia Smith highlighted a tax protest organized by homosexual activists during an April 2011 report on Morning Edition. Three months later, Smith devoted an entire segment to the split over the marriage issue among lesbians.

Also in July 2011, the NPR morning show spotlighted several supporters of California's educational mandate that required public schools to include homosexual historical figures in social studies classes, and only included one opponent.

The full transcript of Carrie Johnson's report on Tuesday's Morning Edition:

RENEE MONTAGNE: How much money the government takes in could be influenced by how the Supreme Court rules on the Defense of Marriage Act. That's one of the two gay marriage cases being heard this week.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports the decision on that federal law could have big implications for how much some same-sex couples owe the IRS.

CARRIE JOHNSON: The case that could throw out a law that defines marriage as between a man and woman started with a tax bill.

EDIE WINDSOR: I'm Edie Windsor, and I brought my case against the government, because I couldn't believe that our government would charge me $350,000 because I was married to a woman and not to a man.

JOHNSON: Edie Windsor married her partner of more than 40 years in Canada back in 2007. Their relationship was recognized by the State of New York, where they lived together. But when her spouse died two years later, Edie inherited a huge estate tax bill – a bill she would have avoided if her marriage had been recognized under federal law.

Nanette Lee Miller is an accountant who works with gay and lesbian clients.

NANETTE LEE MILLER, ACCOUNTANT: I mean, the big thing that people need to be aware of, is that you have to actively plan, if you're LGBT, in your estate or individual taxes, because the law is not set up to protect you.

JOHNSON: Miller says many of those couples are watching the Supreme Court this week for clues about what's in store for their own finances. They don't get a marital deduction for estate tax purposes, so they usually need access to cash or life insurance to be able to inherit their partner's share of a home or other assets. That could change, if the high court rules for Edie Windsor, and declares the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act – DOMA – unconstitutional. In that case, same-sex couples would get the same estate tax benefits.

Roberton Williams of the Urban Institute in Washington says those savings would help just a tiny fraction of people.

ROBERTON WILLIAMS, URBAN INSTITUTE: Very, very few people pay estate taxes. We estimate that, with today's exemption level of $5 million, less than two-tenths of one percent of deaths result in a taxable estate.

JOHNSON: A ruling that the entire DOMA law is unconstitutional would have a much bigger impact on individual tax returns, the ones filed by same-sex married couples or registered domestic partners every year.

Patricia Cain is a law professor at Santa Clara University in California.

PATRICIA CAIN, LAW PROFESSOR, SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY: I think if failure to recognize same-sex couples for tax purposes is unconstitutional, then it would be unconstitutional also to insist that it be a man and a woman – husband and wife – who file a joint return.

JOHNSON: Cain says the ability for same-sex couples to file taxes jointly will be a mixed bag.

CAIN: And that's good for some people and bad for others. In other words, you know, we have a marriage bonus when you have a couple with one high earner and one stay-at-home partner or low income partner – and those people usually experience a tax bonus when they file jointly.

JOHNSON: So, generally, good news for couples whose incomes are wide apart, but bad for some other same-sex couples with roughly similar incomes. The numbers are complicated. So, many couples are asking accountants, like Nanette Lee Miller, for advice. Miller says people who may get some tax benefits, if DOMA is overturned, are thinking about amending their tax returns for the past three years to try to collect some extra money.

MILLER: For individuals, you can go back to 2009, 2010, 2011, and you can also file an amended return – or there's a form to fill out and take advantage of married filing jointly.

JOHNSON: But Miller says some clients have been surprised to find out they could pay the dreaded marriage penalty.

MILLER: Of course, they're not happy. They go, what, there's a penalty?

JOHNSON: She tells them that's just a price of equality.

MILLER: So, to me, it's about everybody having the same amount of pain in taxes. (laughs)

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.