Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down Section 3 of DOMA and allowed to stand a lower court’s overturning of Proposition 8. Here are a few highlights of the aftermath of this amazing day.
Edith Windsor, plaintiff in the DOMA case Windsor v. United States, is said to have been overjoyed when she received the news of her victory while with friends at her attorney Roberta Kaplan’s apartment. “I wanna go to Stonewall right now!” she is quoted as saying before calling a friend to tell them, “Please get married right away!”
A little later on in the day, Windsor at a press conference gave her reaction to Wednesday’s momentous win, saying, “We won everything we asked and hoped for.”
During the press conference, which you can watch in full here, Windsor detailed the life story that had led her to this point, how for 40 years she had loved her spouse Thea Spire before Thea sadly died in 2009, just two years after they were married in Canada.
Due to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits and tax breaks, Windsor faced a bill in excess of $300,000 on Spyer’s estate. She decided to fight this case despite her own ill health and warnings from other equality fighters who thought her chances of winning were slim.
Windsor, now a seemingly robust 83, has emerged as a woman of mettle whose irascible spirit has captured the hearts of Americans. With today’s victory, Edith Windsor’s place in history is cemented, the love she shared with Thea forever laid out as a great engine in this arc of change.
So what effects will the DOMA decision have?
Well, the full scope of the Windsor outcome will have to be teased out in the coming days and weeks. However, some effects have been immediate.
For instance, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced that the Pentagon will grant equal benefits to gay service members and their families, something that despite the DADT repeal, the military had not been able to do before.
In terms of the broader rights landscape, DOMA Section 3 prevented same-sex couples from accessing more than 1,000 federal benefits, several of them having to do with taxes. Those will now be available to same-sex couples and the Obama administration has already said it will move to cater for this change as quickly as possible.
The demise of DOMA Section 3 is also a boon for binational same-sex couples who previously could not sponsor their spouse for a marriage based green card. An overview of this issue can be found here.
Find out the amazing effect that had today on someone who was about to be deported — and stopped it just in time.
What today’s ruling does not change is DOMA Section 2′s effects, language that says states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages carried out in other states. This, especially when it comes to taxes, may still be problematic. A more thorough analysis of that issue can be found here.
The other big case handed down today was the Proposition 8 decision.
Hear in the video below what lead plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier said about this victory:
In case you thought you were going to get away without shedding a tear, at the same press conference, plaintiff Paul Katimi asked his partner Jeff Zarrillo to marry him. Watch it below:
Proposition 8 was of course enacted as a 2008 California state ballot initiative, placing language in the state constitution to define away marriage equality that had been recognized by the state supreme court just a few months before.
An unprecedented legal case was born in which the state refused to defend the law, meaning Proposition 8 backers had to step in to defend the amendment.
In 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 failed even the lowest form of judicial scrutiny and struck down Proposition 8, noting at the time that a fundamental right to equal access to marriage does exist under the Constitution.
Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, though on narrower grounds, saying that Proposition 8 indeed violated constitutional guarantees of equality.
So what does today’s ruling mean?
The Supreme Court refused to issue a judgement in this case because, they argued, Proposition 8′s supporters lacked the authority to have made their appeal to the Court and thus the Court also lacked jurisdiction. In so doing, the Court side-stepped issuing a ruling on whether a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists.
This means that the Proposition 8 ruling’s scope is confined to California and is not precedent setting.
However, it remains a significant victory for its strong statement that a majority cannot vote away a minority’s right to marriage equality and of course for the fact that, in the next few months, same-sex marriage will once again be legal in the state of California.
On a more personal note
Finally, as someone who has followed DOMA and then also Proposition 8 for almost five years now, I thought I would break with my usual convention and offer a personal comment on this victory.
There have been a great many people who started this fight but couldn’t finish it, and my mind returns to the Thea Spyres and Ed Watsons who were harmed irrevocably and irreversibly by the discrimination these curses of legal inequity have caused.
Wednesday’s decisions bring a small amount of justice, however delayed, and that must be recognized.
In a more hopeful turn, I think too of those children who will return to school in the next few months knowing now that the America they will one day step into as adults is closer to fulfilling its promise of equal treatment under the law.
I think too of the Care2 members who have commented on stories like this and signed petitions to tell of their hope that a day like today might arrive, that DOMA would be repealed and Proposition 8 would be struck down.
I think of you, I think of Edith Windsor, I think of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katimi and Jeff Zarrillo and everyone in the unseen but still vital history of these cases, and I think how privileged I have been to witness such valor and courage.
And I think, truly, this is a month to be proud.
Image credit: Ted Eytan via flickr
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