Wednesday, June 26, 2013 will go down as the date of one of the most important Supreme Court decisions since the historic civil rights decision Loving v. Virginia. In a 5-4 decision, the irrational and discriminatory federal law The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was deemed unconstitutional and therefore was summarily struck down. The second big decision on this remarkable day was to show Prop 8 the door, letting gay Californians resume getting married. Huzzah!
This decision will surely not come without some controversy. There will be self-proclaimed “small Government” Conservatives who think gay marriage will tear apart this country. These Conservatives are all for small government except when they don’t like how you conduct your private life. For women, they are all up in our vaginas and uteruses, and for our gay friends they think it’s appropriate to tell you who you can and cannot marry. But today is not a day to pick apart the inconsistencies of those Conservative “values.” That’s the next column.
In 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, 27% of Americans believed in gay marriage. Today, that figure is just over 50%. How amazing is it that in less than 20 years, support for same sex marriage has almost doubled.
It is inevitable that this basic human right, to love and marry someone you love, will be seen as normal.
Edie Windsor, remember that name, this is the woman who took DOMA down. When her wife and partner of 44 years, Thea Speyer, passed away in 2009, Ms. Windsor was socked with a $363,000 federal estate tax bill. It seemed the federal government didn’t recognize her legal marriage and wanted from her what they would not ask of an opposite sex widow, taxes on her spouse’s estate.
That was the crux of Ms. Windsor’s suit. Why is her legal marriage considered by the federal government as less than someone else’s legal marriage? Why is the federal government allowed to treat her as less than equal than a same-sex married couple? This was the perfect case to bring to court. This was the crucible that DOMA must pass. And it ultimately did not. So Ms. Windsor, the 83-year-old widow, who just wanted to be treated with equality and fairness, became the face of a new civil rights leader. She, of the pearls and perfectly coiffed hair, should be relaxing in her retirement, her golden years financially secure. And by the grace of a narrow margin of victory Ms. Windsor will finally be getting her money back, but more than that, she will be getting the respect due to her marriage and her wife. I wonder if the IRS will pay her interest?
The financial burden on same-sex couples was the impetus for Ms. Windsor to bring about this lawsuit. Now, because of her courage, tenacity and clear moral rightness, same-sex couples will now share in the federal benefits opposite-sex couples have been enjoying for years. This ruling gives these couples over 1,000 federal benefits they had been denied including:
- Being eligible for spouses Social Security, federal pensions, and military benefits.
- Couples will now be able to file joint federal tax returns together, and pay marriage penalty tax!
- Same-sex spouses can now claim a host of perks, from estate tax exemptions to head of household deductions.
- They can now receive spousal Social Security and survivor benefits, military pensions and spouse benefits, federal government employees’ spousal pension, Individual Retirement Accounts and untaxed corporate health benefits, which means they won’t have to pay taxes to be on their spouses’ health insurance (bet you didn’t know that).
- They can benefit from the Family Medical Leave Act, they may now take time off from work to tend to a domestic partner or that partner’s family member.
- Green cards and visas: gays and lesbians may now lobby the federal government for green cards or visas for a non-American same-sex partner.
- For military couples, the federal government will now have to tell the surviving spouse when their partner had been killed in action. Right now, these spouses are not considered family and cannot even claim the body.
- And Much More!
The second decision on this perfect summer day was the death of Proposition 8. This is the terrible California Proposition to ban gay marriage which, until Nov. 5, 2008, was legal. On May 15, 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution protects a fundamental “right to marry” that should also extend to same-sex couples, and that existing bans (meaning the existing Proposition 22) are unconstitutional. This clearly freaked out people who believed their straight marriages were about to be blown apart by a gay wedding. So, on June 2, 2008, in retaliation and to save their already failing marriages (damn you married gay neighbors!) the California Marriage Protection Act was submitted with over one million signatures. And in a sneaky and underhanded move, the supporters changed the name to Proposition 8 and put it on the November ballot. Many people had no idea what this was and voted “Yes” not understanding they had just taken the rights away for thousands of fellow Californians. Today’s lesson: PLEASE read before you vote.
But before the vote, the money was pouring in to fund Prop 8. Over $80 million was spent between the supporters and opponents; $44 million was raised by supporters and $39 million was raised by opponents. Now, while that is an insane amount of money and almost as much as was raised for then Candidate Obama’s presidential campaign, I do not have a problem with the public personally funding causes they believe in. But that, of course, is not how one raises such mountains of cash. (Again, an article for another time.)
One of the biggest reasons the supporters of “traditional” marriage have posited to ban same-sex marriage, is that somehow, it will destroy the fabric of our lives. America as we know it will be destroyed and all straight marriages will fall apart and the children of same-sex couples will be irreparably harmed. Unfortunately for opponents of gay marriage, there is almost universal agreement among developmental psychologists and other experts that children are not harmed in any way by having lesbian or gay parents. That argument was given short shrift by Reagan-appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote in the majority opinion:
DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” Kennedy wrote for the majority. “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.
Justice Kennedy, said that the law was tantamount to the “deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” He writes that DOMA:
…humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.
DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” the decision says, going on to conclude that the federal statute “is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.
So I laugh while Rush Limbaugh freaks out at the “the visible fracturing by the judiciary of American culture and American tradition.” He actually says, “They, the majority in this decision, used character assassination as a means of deciding this case, not the law.” I guess his months-long diatribe last year against Sandra Fluke, calling her every nasty name in the book, wasn’t character assassination? Oh right, it’s drug-addled Rush we’re talking about here.
For all my gay friends out there, married or not, I welcome you to full and equal protection under the law! May you pay joint taxes, raise unruly teenagers together, and even get divorced (in Reno!) together! Now you can protect the sanctity of marriage by doing it over and over again until you get it right, just like us!
But on a personal note, to all my married friends, gay or straight, I wish all of you a lifetime of happiness, full of friends, food and federal benefits! Mazel!