As America's 12,000 gay newlyweds get back from their honeymoons, they'll have to face the same reality their straight counterparts do: taxes. But can same-sex couples file jointly? No, according to the IRS. Certainly not if they married after Dec. 31, 2003, and not as long as the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Still, if gay couples file together, they're not likely to be targeted by auditors. Tax experts say that the IRS doesn't normally confirm whether joint filers have a marriage certificate--much less cross-check gender. (An IRS spokeswoman says any disallowed characterization "is likely to be picked up.") Tom Ochsenschlager, a tax specialist with the American Institute of CPAs, says that even couples named, say, Bob and Jeff won't be flagged. Nearly all returns aren't read by people--they're scanned into a computer that kicks out suspicious forms for a human to review. Bob and Jeff will call attention to themselves only if they earn $70,000 and write off $80,000 in donations.

In the 11 states without defense-of-marriage laws, the state tax status of wedded gays is unclear. Earlier this month in New York, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued a legal opinion saying that the state should recognize gay marriages and civil unions performed in other locales. But New York's tax department says it'll follow the IRS's lead. While tax lawyers and accountants sort it out, Matt Foreman, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says thousands of gays will file their 2003 returns jointly. Foreman plans to wed his partner in Massachusetts this spring and file jointly next year. (Ironically, with the so-called marriage penalty, upper-middle-class gays are actually fighting to give Uncle Sam more money.) Foreman says, "Not to file as married would be to submit a fraudulent document."