Euphoria after DOMA’s Demise
I’m lesbian and I’m cheering as I write!
Today is a historic day for gay and lesbian Americans.
In a victory for gay rights, the United States Supreme Court has just issued two decisions backing marriage equality. For the first time, the nation’s highest court has said that we’re equal under the law.
In the United States v. Windsor, the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Signed by President Clinton in 1996 with overwhelming Congressional support, this shameful law, DOMA, has denied same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage. Since its passage, DOMA has prohibited gays and lesbians who have married in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal, from receiving the more than 1,138 benefits the federal government grants to married couples.
Straight couples may take these benefits for granted. But for same-sex couples, the denial of these benefits has had serious, practical consequences.
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff, who has brought down DOMA, was told that she had to pay $300,000 in inheritance taxes when her partner died after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis. If her right to same-sex marriage in New York had not been superseded by DOMA, she wouldn’t have been told to pay the inheritance tax.
Federal benefits range from social security benefits, pension benefits to military survivor’s benefits to hospital visitation rights and health care decisions.
When my partner was dying, the hospital only let me see her when they thought we were sisters. If we’d been able to marry, I wouldn’t have had to fight for visitation and other health care decision rights.
My friends who are getting married in Maryland won’t have to worry about paying taxes if one dies and they’ll receive the tax breaks granted to straight married couples.
Equally important, because the Court said that DOMA is unconstitutional, our equality under the law was affirmed. As Justice Kennedy said in the majority opinion in the decision, “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. By seeking to displace this protective and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others.”
In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court ruled that backers of Prop 8, a ban against same-sex marriage in California, had no standing to go before them. While the Court did not say that Prop 8 or same-sex marriage bans in other states are unconstitutional, gay and lesbian couples will be able to marry in California.
I’m happy that gays and lesbians can marry again in California. But I’m disappointed that the Court didn’t declare the marriage bans to be unconstitutional.
Because same-sex marriage is prohibited in 38 states, millions of us are still not fully equal. We still can’t legally marry as straight couples can.
That being said, I’m thrilled to celebrate this historic milestone.
Just ten years ago today, in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court overthrew sodomy laws. We don’t want special protection; we only want to love whom we love.
As President Obama tweeted after the Court decisions, “Love is love.”
Today, with these Court decisions, gays and lesbians have come a huge step forward toward equality.
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. Her poetry collection “The Green Light” is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.
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