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States rights
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Opponents of the Obama administration are fond of describing it as a dictatorial, socialist, top-down kind of operation that refuses to allow states to run their own affairs.

If those charges ever made much sense, they pretty much fell apart Thursday, when different parts of the federal government separately made what might be called a couple of "joint" decisions.

That's the day that the Internal Revenue Service said it would accept joint tax returns from same-sex couples who were married under the law of any state that recognizes marriage equality, no matter where the couple resides now.

And that's the day the U.S. Department of Justice said that it would probably not interfere with new laws in Colorado, Washington, and any other state that follows those two, into legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults. The qualifier "probably" is appropriate here because the memo to U.S. attorneys around the county says that the feds reserve the right to crack down on marijuana sales if the states fail to do a good enough job of keeping weed out of the hands of children or allowing pot shops to become fronts for other kinds of illegal activity.

In both cases, the federal government decided that it was neither smarter nor more powerful than the various states that have decided by their own processes — in the case of marijuana legalization, both states acted via public referendum — to move ahead on these controversial issues.

After the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS really had little choice but to recognize same-sex marriage certificates issued by any state. A state says you two are married, says the IRS, and that's all we need to know. Sign here.

Of course, this means that any same-sex couple living in Utah — if they were married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages — can file their Utah state tax return jointly, too. That's because every Utah tax return requires taxpayers to copy information from their federal forms, which will carry the joint taxpayer designation along with it.

While the tax-filing decision will have the effect of partially establishing marriage equality nationwide, the feds are being a little more cautious on the marijuana issue. Nobody buying pot in Colorado will be allowed to carry it into states where the substance remains illegal, including Utah.

Still, the marijuana decision by the Justice Department is one that will allow two states — and probably more — to do their work as laboratories of democracy and see how this legalization thing works out. That will be interesting, indeed.

Marriage and marijuana
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