It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.
But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.
It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.
We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.
Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.
As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.
The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.
People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”
PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law has gathered 230,000 signatures.
But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.
While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality. DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.
The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
“What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!”
This morning PFAW staff and members joined a crowd of thousands gathered in front of the Supreme Court to chant, march, and speak out in support of marriage equality. As Supreme Court Justices heard the first round of oral arguments on the marriage cases before them this term, multitudes of supporters gathered on the Court steps to share a simple message: our country is ready for marriage equality.
Today, the Court heard arguments on California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. Tomorrow, it will be considering the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In the weeks leading up to today, we have been asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA is important to them. As I stood out at the rally this morning, I thought about all of the people who had been brave enough to share their story with us – and what this day meant to each of them.
For Bishop Allyson Abrams, a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action, it’s time to dump DOMA “because it hurts and humiliates those who know love and who practice showing it each and every day.” For Sam Paltrow, member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For Program, DOMA has to go because it “teaches that gay families do not matter,” and for Young People For member Erik Lampmann, it’s an “issue of economic justice.” Missoula City Councilmember Cailtin Copple, member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, “would like the chance to marry the person [she] loves someday.”
While each person at the Supreme Court rally today – and those at the marriage rallies in all 50 states across the country – had a different reason for being there, we had a common goal: Equality. Now.
This piece is the eighth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
At the end of 2008, my husband and I were married in the same synagogue where I’d had my bar-mitzvah more than three decades earlier. As a 13 year-old in the 1970s, I read from the Torah and spoke to the congregation about letting the people we love know how much we love them. But as a closeted 13 year-old, I never dreamed that 30 years later, I’d be standing in the same chapel, with all the same people who are dearest to me, publicly professing my love for another man. Rick and I were surrounded by family and married in the traditions of our faith. And as we drank from the Kiddush cup, we adapted a practice from the Passover Seder; since Prop 8 had just passed, we removed eight drops of wine as a symbol that our joy was diminished by the suffering caused by marriage discrimination.
Passover is my favorite holiday because it is about living in a just society. It teaches us to welcome the stranger, because “we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It is a lesson that, unfortunately, must be learned and relearned, as every society has those whom it unjustly treats as outcasts.
It’s appropriate that the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in both the Prop 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases during the week of Passover. Although the Constitution uses the language of “equal protection” instead “strangers in the land of Egypt,” the underlying values are the same. It is wrong – and unconstitutional – for states to prohibit us from marrying and for the federal government to refuse to recognize our marriages. What better time than Passover to dump DOMA and strike down Prop 8?
Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
This piece is the seventh in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Nine years ago, as I was preparing to leave Ohio University, I said goodbye to Adam, one of my best friends. I remember writing to him in a card that I hoped our husbands would someday get to meet. That November – November 3, 2004 to be precise – I was on the phone with him, and he was heartbroken at what for many was a difficult election (including Ohio passing a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman).
Fast forward to 2011, and a visit with Adam and his partner of several years, Michael. Marriage equality came up in conversation. It seemed to us to be possible but still five or ten years away.
Then came 2012. In May, President Obama affirmed his support for the freedom to marry of same-sex couples. In December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
With oral arguments looming at the end of the month, Adam’s reaction to the President’s announcement rings ever more true:
THANK YOU President Obama! Those of you who know Michael and I: we have such an incredibly strong, stable, loving relationship. Opening our relationship up to marriage does nothing but STRENGTHEN the institution!
That’s exactly why we should dump DOMA.
Yes, dumping DOMA is just one step on the long road to marriage equality. But it’s an important step, and one that’s many years overdue. DOMA unconstitutionally defines marriage for all federal purpose as the union of one man and one woman. That means that legally married couples in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the more than one thousand rights and benefits that the federal government ties to marriage. That means that these couples and families aren’t afforded the safety and security that comes along with many of those rights. That means that they are discriminated against based solely on their sexual orientation.
That means that if Adam and Michael were to legally marry, despite progress made under the Obama administration, the federal government – bound by the discrimination enshrined in law – would have no choice but to turn its back on them in most cases.
That is not right. Dump DOMA.
Jen Herrick, Senior Policy Analyst
People For the American Way
This piece is the sixth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Growing up as a gay woman in a conservative Salvadoran household was like being the protagonist in one of the telenovelas that I used to watch with my Maminena, my grandma. Thankfully, here in Maryland, being gay is no longer an obstacle to marrying the love of my life.
After a hard-fought battle, my girlfriend and I now have the right to say, “I do.”
Unlike most economic development initiatives, tax increases, and transportation projects, our ability to marry was taken to the polls and put to a vote. Marriage for same-sex couples is still treated like an earned privilege rather than a given right. While we won the right to marry in Maryland, thanks to DOMA our marriage would not be recognized under federal law.
My relationship, under this law, does not count. DOMA is a vehicle for discrimination and it hurts our families.
When thinking about equality, whether it’s equal protection under federal law, marriage equality or equal protection for our transgender community, two words come to mind: unconditional love.
Unconditional love. That is what equality means to me: unconditional love for our community, constituents, neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates, friends, family members. Because when you truly love, you don’t let discrimination and injustice take place in your community – or in your country.
The Defense of Marriage Act is just as outdated as the concept of “traditional marriage” being restricted to heterosexuals only. It’s time to dump DOMA – let unconditional love take its place.
Alumna of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Front Line Leaders Academy
This piece is the fifth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Is it wrong for committed couples to share retirement and medical benefits? Is it wrong for Americans to expect to receive equal justice under the law?
No, but it is wrong for our government to dictate who we can love and who we cannot. It is wrong for our government to recognize some married couples and not others. But that is exactly what the Defense Of Marriage Act does.
Marriage equality doesn’t hurt anybody or take away anybody’s freedoms. But DOMA does both of those things. Supporters of DOMA sound dangerously like those who said we should outlaw interracial marriages in the previous century. It’s time for this country to say we are done with DOMA and dump it.
Reverend Charles Williams II
Member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action
This piece is the fourth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Attending weddings is always an interesting phenomenon for queer Americans. We might celebrate in the festivities, box out our cousins for the bouquet or present a toast. Yet, for most queer people, myself included, there remains the thought in the back of our minds that -- try as we might -- a federally-recognized marriage is largely beyond our grasp. While I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever try to marry, I am committed to ensuring that American society treats all partnerships as equally valid under the law. Under the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), the federal government denies married same-sex couples every one of the 1,000+ federal legal protections that marriage affords and institutionalizes a negative stigma of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people. For these reasons alone, DOMA is antithetical to a “free” America where all citizens are seen as equal under the law.
DOMA’s effects extend even further, however. For instance, the repeal of DOMA is also an issue of economic justice. Because DOMA prevents queer couples from filing their taxes together and sharing health benefits, these couples often pay more than heterosexual couples for the same services and opportunities. DOMA not only prevents same-sex couples from taking on the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage, it penalizes them financially.
The question of whether to “Dump DOMA” is clear for me. As more and more Americans favor marriage equality and as courts reject its reasoning, it’s only a matter of time before all Americans are afforded equal marriage rights under the law. I believe the “arc of history bends towards justice,” and I believe this is a time for all Americans to stand with their queer family, friends, and community members against injustice. DUMP DOMA TODAY!
Erik Lampmann, University of Richmond
Member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program
DOMA’s Days Are Over
This piece is the third in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
All Americans deserve equal treatment under the law. The President has acknowledged that, as have the nine states (plus the District of Columbia) that allow gays and lesbians to marry. A number of other states offer some form of relationship recognition status. But thanks to DOMA, the federal government doesn’t recognize all legally married couples, and states can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. And in Montana, same-sex couples can’t get married to begin with. That's why I care about dumping DOMA.
I'm queer and would like the chance to marry the person I love someday. Heck, I've got a master's degree and was elected to the City Council at age 28, but I'm not to be trusted with a lifelong commitment? All loving couples should have access to the legal protections they need to take care of each other, and I don't feel like I should have to move to a city to be myself and have the kind of life I want.
I'm a fourth generation Idahoan and now a proud Montanan, and I want to raise my kid in a place where they can hike, climb, backpack, fish, and hunt just a few minutes from home. Most Montanans value fairness and dignity. They judge you more by how you treat your neighbor than what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom. They believe in following the law. I think my fellow Montanans will come around when they see the sky doesn't fall when committed same-sex couples tie the knot.
So let's do it. Let's dump DOMA, and allow all Americans to pursue happiness by marrying the person they love.
Caitlin Copple, Missoula, MT City Councilmember
Member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network
She Deserves to Be My Wife
This piece is the second in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Love. The love of the one who makes us smile, the one who makes us laugh, the one who makes us feel like we are the only person in the world. The one who makes us wonder, why did God wait to bring this person in our lives? The one who makes our toes curl and shiver every time we think about them, hear their voice, see their face, or have intimate moments. Yes, love is what every human being should be afforded while on this earth and on this journey called life. And once we find that true love, we want to make it official and spend the rest of our days enjoying them and experiencing life with them. However, it seems that some people only believe that this bliss or joy should be extended to those of different genders.
The first time I heard the word “partner” for same-sex couples, my friend referred to her mate in that way. I must admit, I questioned how could this term be appropriate for same-gender loving couples. Was it a business relationship? To me, partner is so formal, while wife or husband is so personal. And who refers to the one they love in a formal way? The ones we love we call “baby,” “sweetie,” “honey,” “sugar,” “darling,” and “my dear.” It seems to me that this “partner” term was given to those same-gender loving couples to diminish the true love and awesome power that they experience when being with one another. Yes, there is a partnership involved. But I think it’s time to recognize that same-sex couples are as “qualified” for marriage as heterosexual couples. Love in my faith tradition is represented in heart, soul and spirit. It is that love – that love that binds and unifies heart to heart and spirit to spirit that obligates me to say to my friend, “Yes, you have a partner and you also have a wife.”
We are in the 21st century, and the way I see it, it’s time to dump DOMA simply because it discriminates against those who deserve to have their relationships recognized in whatever way they choose – which should include as marriages. It’s time to dump DOMA because it hurts and humiliates those who know love and who practice showing it each and every day. It’s time to dump DOMA because it alienates and afflicts those who love with their heart and are simply in need of their rights being extended to them. It’s time to dump DOMA and celebrate the manifestation of love in every relationship. It’s time to afford every human the opportunity to marry and be respected as loving families who contribute to the wonderful world that God created and are a part of making it go around.
Dump it, and create a better world for all human-kind!
Bishop Allyson Abrams
Member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action
This piece is the first in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.
Jon Stewart once said he was fine with gay people getting married, and even fine with them having children, but…“two Jewish mothers?”
I am the twin sister of a brilliant, if sometimes hard to understand, Princeton computer science and philosophy major. I am a product of the New York City public school system and a junior at Oberlin, a small liberal arts college in Ohio. I am a twenty-year-old woman and I am the daughter of two strong and courageous Jewish women.
Since the Supreme Court announced it would take the case of 83-year-old Edith Windsor, a case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, many wonder if marriage equality is in the near future. Edie Windsor, a widow after 40 years with her partner Thea Spyer, was saddled with a federal estate tax bill of $363,000 when her partner Thea passed away. This story is deeply moving and familiar in the concerns it raises. My family also deals with what we call the “gay” tax. We pay thousands of extra dollars each year so one of my moms can be covered by the other’s health insurance plan. If they were married, it would be free. Both of my moms had to buy extra life insurance, because if one died we wouldn’t be able to afford the "gay" federal estate tax imposed on us from the ownership transfer of our apartment. If my parents were married, it would be inherited with no taxes at all.
People ask me all the time what it was like growing up with two moms and I always answer the same way. Instantly defensive, as the self-proclaimed spokesperson for what my moms call the “first generation of gaybies,” I say that growing up with two moms is not different at all. I was lucky, I reply, to have two loving parents at all, and their parenting – not their gender – is what has made the most difference in my upbringing.
And I mean it.
But the truth is, it’s also different – the differences are just harder to talk about. Having two moms has meant that people have questioned my sexuality and my brother’s sexuality. It has meant that people have questioned the way I was raised. It has meant that people feel justified in openly discussing and sharing their opinions about my personal life. It has meant having to consciously decide in every new group whether to cautiously mention ‘my moms’ or to safely and cowardly stick with ‘my parents.’ It has meant hiding part of my identity.
When Mitt Romney said that he “didn’t know they had families,” referring to same-sex couples, I was shocked and then horrified. How could a man running for president not know families like mine exist? How could he erase families like mine from his view of America?
We need to dump DOMA now to let the whole of the United States know that such discrimination and misinformation is harmful to LGBT families. Legal advocates sometimes point to unfair taxation to explain why DOMA is unconstitutional, but the problem goes beyond monetary inequality. DOMA has to go, not just because of my family or because of extra taxes, but because of the bigger message it sends. DOMA has to go because it teaches that our country can devalue some people while taxing them more. It teaches that gay families do not matter.
Sam Paltrow, Oberlin College
Member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program