March 27, 2013

Some of the arguments from yesterday's Prop 8 hearing.

We all have gay friends, gay relatives, gay neighbors, or gay co-workers. (Some of us even have all of the above.) For the first time, it looks like our dear friends and relatives have a real shot at the same legal rights that apply to any married couple, as the Supreme Court listens this morning to arguments against the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. I hope and pray that those rights are finally recognized by the Court, and that the best American traits of generosity and inclusion are reflected in their decision, because to decide otherwise is not only crazy, it's indecent:

An 83-year-old former IBM programmer is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a law that cost her more than a quarter of a million dollars and deprived her, and thousands of other gay couples, of federal marriage benefits.

At issue is the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, passed by overwhelming margins in both houses of Congress in 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton. It bars federal agencies from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal.

The arguments are being heard just one day after a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which put an end to same-sex marriage in that state, was brought to the high court. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hinted that it might be hesitant to issue any kind of sweeping ruling declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The justices seemed wary of issuing a broad decision that would apply to any state outside of California.

As a result of DOMA, same-sex couples in states where same-sex marriages are legal are accorded state and local marriage benefits, but not more than 1,100 federal ones. These range from spousal health coverage to Social Security and veterans' benefits.

For more than 40 years, Edie Windsor lived with another woman, Thea Spyer, and the two were eventually married in Canada in 2007. But when Spyer died two years later, leaving Windsor the estate, the IRS sent a tax bill for $363,053, because DOMA barred the federal agency from recognizing their marriage. The surviving spouse of a traditional marriage is not required to pay federal estate taxes.

"I couldn't believe that they were making a stranger of this person I lived with and loved for 43-something years," she said.

So she sued the U.S. government, and two lower federal courts found that DOMA amounted to unconstitutional discrimination. As the case wound its way through the legal process, the Justice Department, originally her adversary, became her ally.

Two years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress of President Barack Obama's conclusion that "classifications based on sexual orientation" were inconsistent with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under law. The Justice Department stopped defending DOMA in court.

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