All legally wed gay couples, even in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages, are entitled to the same U.S. federal tax benefits as married heterosexual couples, the U.S. Treasury and Internal Revenue Service ruled Thursday, after the Supreme Court in June invalidated a key portion the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
"Today's ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement.
"This ruling assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change," he added.
There was uncertainty after the Supreme Court’s ruling about how the tax status of gay married couples would be treated in dozens of states that have laws against gay marriage.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights group, praised the government's action.
"With today's ruling, committed and loving gay and lesbian married couples will now be treated equally under our nation's federal tax laws, regardless of what state they call home," Griffin said in a statement.
The Treasury said that with the new rules, same-sex couples will be treated as married for all federal-tax purposes including income, gift and estate taxes.
The rules will cover all federal-tax provisions where marriage is a factor -- including the taxpayer's filing status, personal and dependent exemptions and standard deductions.
The new rules will cover any same-sex marriage legally entered into in any state where such a marriage is recognized. It will also cover such marriages recognized by U.S. territories, foreign nations and the District of Columbia.
The government said the statute of limitations for filing a refund claim was generally three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever was later. As a result, the government said that refund claims can still be filed for tax years 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The new IRS and Treasury regulations follow rule changes and guidance that have already been issued by other federal agencies including the office of Personnel Management and the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.
Al Jazeera and wire services