DOMA Dumped; Dykes Delighted!
The Supreme Court made history today by striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in the case United States v. Windsor. Led by New York plaintiff Edie Windsor, lesbians and gays across the country are celebrating two 5-4 rulings by the Court striking down DOMA as unconstitutional, and dismissing the Prop 8 case on lack of standing, restoring the freedom to marry in California and affirming that all loving, committed couples who marry deserve equal legal treatment.
"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," swing voter Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. "By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment."
In New York City, Windsor gathered with her attorney Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind at the LGBT Community Center in the West Village to address the nation in the spot where they had their first press conference upon taking the case.
"We won everything we asked and hoped for," said Windsor. ""I'm honored and humbled and overjoyed to be here today to represent not only the thousands of Americans whose lives have been adversely impacted by the Defense of Marriage Act, but those whose hopes and dreams have been constricted by the same discriminatory law."
Windsor, who was with her partner Thea Spyer for more than four decades when Spyer died in 2009, two years after they were married. Angered that the government didn't recognize their marriage, and with the $363,000 estate tax bill levied against her. Today's decision by the Supreme Court will get all of her money back, plus interest, according to lawyer Kaplan.
"The meaning of today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is truly overwhelming, even for me as the lawyer who argued the case," said Kaplan, adding that "Today, the Supreme Court affirms the principle that gay married couples have the same right to be treated with dignity and respect as straight married couples."
The ruling has real-life consequences for thousands of gay couples, including lifting of the burden of estate taxes, social security, the ability to take sick leave to care for a spouse and the extension of benefits for spouses of fallen service members.
Across the Nation, Women Celebrate
As Windsor and her legal team gathered at The Center for this historic press conference, executive director Glennda Testone celebrated the victory, but reminded the community that there was still much work to be done.
"We joyously celebrate this milestone, and our dear friend Edie's victory," said Testone. "But we also know that there's a long way to go until true equality for LGBT people is achieved. Make no mistake that today is a day of celebration, but tomorrow, and all the days after, we will continue our fight until we achieve the rights of safety, equality and freedom that all people deserve."?
Brooklyn Community Pride Center's Executive Director Erin Drinkwater echoed this sentiment, saying, that, "In our celebration we are reminded that the road to equality and justice is long. Just last week here in New York, the State Senate refused to vote on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act that would provide protections across the state for transgender New Yorkers. At the federal level the LGBTQ community does not enjoy workplace protections and can be fired simply for who they love. Across the country we see many of our youth plagued by an epidemic of bullying and suicide. Today we celebrate with Edie, but know that there is much work to be done and tomorrow we will rise with a renewed sense of purpose that the highest court in the nation ruled in our favor and for equal treatment under the law."
Openly lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn gathered with other openly gay legislators to acknowledge the power of the New York State government finally apologizing to Windsor for, in her darkest hour after Spyer's death, sending her a $363,000 estate tax bill.
"The thing about Edie that's remarkable is that she lived her life not as an activist -- she wasn't even out of closet for most of her life -- but enough became enough," said Quinn. "She did that thing that ordinary Americans do: she stood up and said I'm not going to take it anymore, my life matters, our marriage matters and I'm not going to be a second-class citizen anymore. She has changed the world, and put us in a situation where we have the march for marriage equality in every state in the union. Today is a message to people all across the country, that this country is really becoming a more perfect union, that when our founding fathers said we are all created equal, they put us on a path to getting there as a country."
Across town, New York Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell praised Kaplan, who represented him in seeking marriage equality in New York State, saying, "I want to thank her for her tireless dedication to equality. It is people like Edie Windsor and Roberta Kaplan who will help us achieve marriage equality across the United States, and I look forward to fighting alongside them until that day comes."
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who helped lead the effort in the Senate to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and was an original co-sponsor and leading advocate for the Respect for Marriage Act, also commented on the historic decision. She said that she was overjoyed the Supreme Court ruled to end the discrimination that had been enshrined into U.S. law, upholding the fundamental values this country was founded upon of fairness, equality and justice. Because the decision does not impact states without marriage equality, Gillibrand looked toward the future, when every state had marriage equality.
"Marriage is the true foundation for strong families. Every loving, committed couple deserves the basic human right to get married, start a family, and be treated equally under the law. No politician from this day forward should try to stand in the way of this fact," said Gillibrand. "Now that the Supreme Court has ruled DOMA is unconstitutional, Congress must do its job and get this corrosive law off the books so there is certainty for all loving committed couples across state lines. I promise to work hard to pass the Respect for Marriage Act and finally put the discriminatory DOMA policy into the dustbin of history where it belongs."
And after years of work, Marriage Equality USA Board Co-President Cathy Marino-Thomas was pleased that her family would now be protected, saying, "My wife Sheila, our daughter Jacqueline, and I are overjoyed that we will now have full federal protections for our family, just as any other married family does."
In Massachusetts, where they have had marriage equality legislation for nine years, this landmark DOMA decision means the end to a two-tiered system for marriage. The federal government will now defer to the states in determining whether a couple's marriage is legal. MassEquality looks forward to the day when all states can join them in enjoying the freedom to marry.
"This is a great day for our Commonwealth and our country as we move closer to equality for all people," said MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini. "We know that families are healthier and communities are stronger when everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Today's DOMA ruling does just that by affirming that all who choose to legally marry come before their government as equals. We are also excited that the Supreme Court's decision in Prop 8 effectively restores marriage equality in California."
L.A. Center Celebrates Struck Down Appeal for Prop 8
Shortly after the DOMA decision was announced, the Court also denied standing in Hollingsworth v Perry, ruling that the sponsors of the anti-gay Proposition 8, which stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry, had no legitimate interest in prosecuting an appeal over the objections of state officials. The decision means that the trial court ruling striking down the law stands, restoring the freedom to marry in California which now becomes the 13th state (along with Washington, D.C.) where same-sex couples can marry.
"Today is a great day for American children and families," said plaintiff Kris Perry. "Sandy and I want to say how happy we are, not only to be able to return to California and finally get married, but to be able to say to children in California that no matter where you live, no matter who your parents are, no matter what family you are in: you are equal, you are as good as your friends' parents and as your friends. We believed from the very beginning that the importance of this case was to send a message to the children of this country that you are just as good as everybody else no matter who you love, no matter who you're parents love."
"Today is not just about us, it is about kids in the South, it is about kids in Texas, it is about kids everywhere. And we really need to take this fight all the way and win equality for everyone in this entire country," added plaintiff Sandy Stier.
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean leads her community in celebrating a monumental and historic victory for justice and equality, and a rejection of the bigoted, divisive politics that took this freedom away 56 months ago.
"A grievous wrong has finally been righted," said Jean. "Justice has prevailed and the freedom to marry for California's same-sex couples has been restored. Now no one can take it from us!"
Jean said she knew that it would be a long and challenging struggle when the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center became one of the first organizations to join the fight for marriage equality in 1995. She acknowledged a great debt of gratitude to all who supported them in the fight, among them the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which took the Prop. 8 case to the Supreme Court; the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), who won the DOMA case; and to all the other groups and activists who have fought beside them. But she, too, was quick to remind people that this was not the end of the struggle for civil rights.
"Though we've won the freedom to marry in California, our nationwide struggle for equality is far from over," said Jean. "Thirty-seven of our United States still reject the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. And we have yet to pass federal legislation to prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT people, let alone the broader protections from discrimination that other minorities enjoy. But today, we celebrate this historic victory!"
In Sacramento, Marriage Equality USA's Christine Allen was relieved to hear that her family would now be protected.
"My wife Ann and I have been a loving, committed couple for over 27 years, have raised five kids, and are legally married in California," said Allen. "We are senior citizens and feel a great sense of relief that DOMA's exclusion of us from much needed protections, such as spousal social security, will now end. We've worked and paid into the system just like everyone else, and thanks to the Supreme Court's decision we now will be protected like everyone else."
ASOs and Servicemembers Rejoice
The Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 have far-reaching reverberations, among them a potential lessening of stigma and internalized homophobia, and recognition of the partners of gays and lesbians who now serve openly in the armed forces.
As Kaplan explained, "It is only because of the efforts of people like Edie Windsor and those who founded and sustained organizations which continue to fight social injustice -- like GMHC -- that allowed this victory to happen. As Chief Judge Jacobs so eloquently wrote, 'Ninety years of discrimination is enough.' We can never show enough gratitude for prior generations like Edie's who lived through and struggled against that discrimination, particularly when so many of those men and women sadly did not survive to see this day."
Commenting on the rulings, GMHC's CEO Marjorie J. Hill, PhD declared, "The striking down of the discriminatory DOMA and the finding that Proposition 8 in California was also unconstitutional advances equality for all people. Combating laws which discriminate against gay men and lesbians is an important step in reducing stigma and creating a society in which all people are valued and able to access health care. These are critical steps as we move towards creating an AIDS-free generation."
Massachusetts-based AIDS Action Committee President & CEO Rebecca Haag echoed this sentiment, saying that one of the wide-ranging impacts of this decision will be an improvement in the health of LGBT people.
"Intolerance and discrimination have long been linked to health care disparities. And discrimination against LGBT people has been specifically linked to increased rates of HIV," said Haag, quoting a 2009 study at Emory University that found that states with laws against the marriage rights of same-sex couples saw an increase in HIV diagnoses by four people per 100,000. "It's very simple: The health of the LGBT community improves when we embrace LGBT people for their full worth and dignity. Today's decision on DOMA does just that."
Military groups were also pleased, with OutServe SLDN's leader saying that the victory was especially sweet for our nation's lesbian, gay and bisexual service members, who can now not only serve openly, but can serve knowing that their loving, committed, and legal marriages will be recognized by the military they serve and the nation they protect.
"This victory energizes our work moving forward and lays a new, strong foundation for ensuring marriage for all loving and committed couples in our country across all fifty states," said Army veteran and OutServe SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson, who called upon the Pentagon to act immediately and unequivocally to implement today's ruling. "We expect Secretary Hagel to act so that all families affected by today's ruling gain access to full recognition, benefits and support no later than sixty days from today.
OutServe SLDN will be working with the Pentagon and the VA to ensure that the greatest number of federal protections, responsibilities and programs are available to all military couples as soon as possible."