Posted in Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, gay, lesbian, lgbt, prop 8, Proposition 8, supreme court

The Five Icons of Prop 8 and DOMA – The Fight Continues

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Edie Windsor

“When Thea and I met nearly 50 years ago, we never could have dreamed that the story of our life together would be before the Supreme Court…” – Edie Windsor

When we think of how we’ll be when we’re in our 80’s – if we’re even lucky enough to grow to be that old – our thoughts are usually about retirement, relaxing, spending time with our families and cherishing the limited moments we have left on Earth. That’s not the path 84-year-old Edie Windsor had in mind. Instead of spending her time relaxing, vacationing or spending personal time with her family, Edie was busy challenging the United States government on the Defense of Marriage Act. In 2007, Edie Windsor legally married her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer. Two years later, Spyer died and Windsor was stuck with an estate tax bill of over $363,000. Unlike a federally recognized marriage, Edie was seen merely as having a personal relationship with Thea and not having a legally recognized relationship with her. A person that is legally married is not charged an estate tax when their partner dies and they inherit their partner’s estate.

Edie knew in her heart that it was wrong for the United States of America to not recognize her marriage to Thea. She had to challenge the United States government on their discriminatory law. At first, the ACLU didn’t want to represent her. They didn’t think she had a strong enough case to get the sweeping ruling that we got yesterday. Thankfully they put their trust in their team and in Edie. As it’s already known, the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional yesterday. It was ruled unconstitutional because of Edie and her powerful story. She truly is an icon in the LGBT community and will be immortalized as the woman that fought for equality for all of us. Edie Windsor truly is a hero in my book.

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Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo

There were four other prominent figures in the fight for LGBT equality that fought hard to get Proposition 8 overturned – Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier. We can’t forget to herald these strong couples as influential members of the gay community as well. When they were denied marriage licenses after Proposition 8 was enforced, they sued the state of California. They took significant time and money out of their own lives to fight the state of California and eventually a private group of lawyers. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the defendants didn’t have standing to defend Proposition 8 in the case. Virtually, the defendants could not prove they were damaged as a result of the repeal of Proposition 8, therefore they had no standing to challenge the plaintiffs.

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Kris Perry and Sandy Stier

I was actually out of the country in Singapore when the oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court in March. I spent some of my vacation reading the oral arguments at the airport as I headed back to the United States. While I was in Singapore, the LGBT community and our allies in the United States held a wear red for marriage equality day. Even though I was 10,000 miles away, I wanted to make sure I recognized that day with my fellow LGBT community. I wanted to make sure to take photographs of myself wearing a red shirt, so I ventured out to find the perfect places to take a photo. I found a sculpture in the Boat Quay of Singapore that symbolized unity in sports. I felt just the idea of unity was impactful, and I took a photo of myself standing in front of it.

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Yesterday, I wanted to make sure I was surrounded by my fellow LGBT family and supporters as the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings came down. The Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh – a non-profit organization that helps to raise awareness to the LGBT community and hosts the Pride events every year put on a demonstration in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh yesterday. The day before I helped the Delta Foundation rally their supporters to turn out for the event. The turnout was great, the weather was great and the speakers were amazing. Yesterday was definitely a day I will never forget.

Downtown Pittsburgh set up before the masses arrived
Downtown Pittsburgh set up before the masses arrived

I didn’t want to go into great detail about the impact of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, I wanted to focus more on the five individuals that took significant sacrifices in their own lives to pave the way for all of us to experience equality. We can’t thank Edie Windsor, Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier enough.

Spectators awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling in Downtown Pittsburgh
Spectators awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling in Downtown Pittsburgh

As we transition from a country where we were treated as second-rate citizens to a nation where some of us can legally marry, while others of us still can’t, we have to gear up for the next fight. The Humans Right Campaign has an ambitious goal of getting marriage equality to all 50 states in the United States. We must petition state governments to legalize marriage equality. We must contact our U.S. representatives and U.S. senators and let them know we will not enshrine discrimination into our Constitution. The same Constitution that guarantees equality. The same Constitution that gives us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Representative” Tim Huelskamp of Kansas is planning to introduce the Federal Marriage Amendment, an amendment to the United States Constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. While there is no chance of it’s passage, and it’s a waste of American tax dollars, we cannot sit around and let our government officials attempt to treat us less than anyone else. We must encourage Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Part of the crowd during a demonstration in Downtown Pittsburgh awaiting the Supreme Court's rulings
Part of the crowd during a demonstration in Downtown Pittsburgh awaiting the Supreme Court’s rulings

There is still a lot of work we must do in order to establish full equality for the gay community. Let’s celebrate this triumphant win we had yesterday and look forward to what we have in store for ourselves as we fight for what is rightfully ours and our straight counterparts. It’s time we get energized and remember that love is love.

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Posted in Defense of Marriage Act, democrat, DOMA, gay, gop, government, homosexuality, lgbt, libertarian, marriage, marriage equality, news, politics, prop 8, republican, same-sex marriage, supreme court, Uncategorized

[UPDATED: June 23, 2013] Supreme Court Watch: Prop 8 and Defense of Marriage Act

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When I first started brainstorming ideas on a new blog I could start with a specific but broad enough theme to it, I assumed I would eventually broach the subject of marriage equality. I didn’t originally plan to talk about this topic so soon, or even as my first political entry. I think with marriage equality being at the forefront of the gay rights movement and with the fight reaching the Supreme Court that its important to discuss the topic now.

In March, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments about two major marriage equality questions. They first heard arguments about the voter-approved Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman only in California. The case is officially known has Hollingsworth v. Perry. It is unofficially called and more widely known as Proposition 8 or Prop 8. The following day, the justices heard oral arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act. Rulings on both cases are expected to be handed down sometime next month.

Opponents of marriage equality cite religion as the reason why same-sex couples should not be afforded the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. They also argue that the definition of marriage cannot be changed. A problem is that many religious people believe they have full ownership over marriage. Marriage actually predates many organized religions and same-sex marriage was not uncommon. Not until around 342 AD did rules start getting placed on marriage. The point here is that until religion came along, same-sex marriage was a common practice.

The problem with people claiming the definition of marriage cannot be changed is that the definition has changed throughout time. Marriage was once seen more of a transaction between a man and the bride’s father than about being in a loving and committed relationship. For a price, the man could trade something to the bride’s father for the right to marry her. The woman was seen more as property than an equal counterpart to the marriage. A woman was to be a baby-making machine that catered to the household needs. She would cook, clean, do laundry, etc. The man provided a house, money and protection for the woman. Today, in western culture, marriage is about one man and one woman having a loving, committed and equal footing on the relationship. The roles the man and woman have changed over time, therefore the definition of marriage has changed through time.

Several religions have also defined marriage in more than one way. The Bible defines marriage in many different ways, eight to be exact. Judaism also had multiple definitions of marriage, including polygyny. Islam also allows for polygyny. Hinduism used to allow for polygyny until 1955 and Buddhism believed in marriage to be more of a civil ritual compared to a religious rite.

People tend to forget that in American history, marriage is not only a religious institution. Marriage represents a civil contract and a religious union. The problem lies in the fact that marriage and religion have become so intertwined through history that it’s hard for most people to separate the two types of marriage from each other. The fight for marriage equality in the United States isn’t a fight for religious marriages, but a fight for civil marriage equality.  We don’t live in a theocracy, or have a government that prefers one religion over another, or we’re not supposed to. Religion holds no bearing on the argument for or against marriage equality.

Since the defendants in Hollingsworth v Perry can’t argue that same-sex marriage would impede on religious principles, what have they decided to argue? They are arguing that same-sex couples can be discriminated against and treated differently than opposite-sex couples, because gay people can’t procreate. Yes, you read that right. Before the Supreme Court Justices, the defendants argued that same-sex marriage can be banned because a requirement for marriage must be about two people’s abilities to have biological children. The defendants were asked about infertile couples and older couples, but tried to sidestep those logical arguments. Marriage isn’t about procreation. Marriage is about two loving and consenting adults entering into a bond together.

The plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case are arguing that the defendants do not hold bearing to represent the state of California and do not have direct consequences as a result of Prop 8 being overturned. They also argued that banning same sex marriage is a violation of the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution.

While it’s a no-brainer where I stand on the issue, I don’t think this case is going to legalize marriage equality for the entire United States. The United States Supreme Court has a couple of rulings they can make at their disposal. The first, unlikely ruling is that banning same-sex marriage anywhere in the United States is unconstitutional and marriage equality must be provided to everyone. The second possible ruling is that states that have created a “separate but equal” type of state, in which gay people are provided with domestic partnerships or civil unions are unconstitutional and marriage equality must be given in those particular states only. These states would include California, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. The third and more likely ruling will sort of be like a non-ruling in a sense. The Supreme Court Justices in a split 5-4 decision will uphold the ruling of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. In essence, same-sex marriage will be legalized in California and California only. They will agree with the lower court of appeal’s decision that the defendants do not have grounds to represent the state of California in the Prop 8 debate. I believe we will have to have another couple or group of couples appeal their denial of a marriage license in order to get the landmark decision we are all hoping for.

The Defense of Marriage Act is a law that was passed by the United States Congress in the 90s and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a democrat. The law defined marriage as between a man and a woman and gave states permission to not recognize marriage equality when two same-sex people are married in a state that recognizes marriage equality. I expect this court case to be a huge victory for equality in the United States. I’m a little less knowledgeable on what the specific vote will come down to, but I do believe the Defense of Marriage Act will be ruled unconstitutional. During the oral arguments in March, most of the Supreme Court justices seemed to question the constitutionality of DOMA. A ruling on this case is also expected sometime next month. It will likely be around the same time, if not at the same time when the justices rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. If DOMA is struck down as unconstitutional, this will put into place the federal government having to provide federal benefits to couples that are married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. We will start seeing states that do not already have a Defense of Marriage Act of their own passing these laws in order to make it so gay couples’ marriages in other states are not recognized in the state they are going to or may currently live in. I think gay couples that are not able to be married and get federal benefits simply based upon their state’s recognition of a “traditional” marriage will have better chances of getting a case to the Supreme Court and getting a more sweeping ruling in the future.

I hope to be able to write about these victories next month and I plan to eventually write a bit more extensively about same-sex marriage.