Sunday, June 30, 2013

SCOTUS Provides Great End to Pride Month, but Equality Remains on the Agenda

My husband Pete and I joined with many LGBT folks and straight allies in celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling declaring Section 3 of the inappropriately-named Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. We were also happy SCOTUS deferred to a lower court ruling on Prop 8 based on the standing of those who challenged Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision.

Pete and I will now be able to file all of our income tax forms together, no longer lying on our federal return by saying we are single. We’re covered by inheritance rights heterosexual couples have always enjoyed. If something happens to me, Pete will get my Social Security benefits. If I lose my job, Pete will be covered under whatever meager health benefits we get from COBRA. And we can exchange money between various checking and savings accounts without worrying about exceeding the “gift” amount of $13,000 a year. While we were both born in the U.S., it’s also heartening to see bi-national couples finally able to get a green card for the non-American spouse. Those and more than 1,100 other federal rights have been extended to us and all legally married gay and lesbian couples, catching up to the equal rights we enjoy under New York State law.
Aye, there’s the rub. We’re fine as long as we remain in New York. We can’t consider employment in Florida or a home in North Carolina. If we visit my brother in Texas and one of us were to end up in a hospital, the other half of our legally-sanctioned marriage has no right to determine treatment and can be barred from visiting the injured party. That’s because Section 2 of DOMA remains and we are only legally married if we remain contained in the pen of 13 states that recognize the validity of our union. That section of DOMA was not part of the Windsor case on which the Court made its ruling.

There are still 37 states where we are not equal. There are 29 states where we can be fired for even the suspicion of being gay – though I’m sure our wedding rings would give us away. That’s one state less that the two-thirds needed to pass a constitutional amendment that would effectively strip us of our marriage. So, Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s threat to introduce a “Federal Marriage Amendment” is nothing more than street theater, since it will never pass. I found it rather funny that his speech to propose the amendment, delivered in front of the Supreme Court building, was drowned out by the successful litigants of the Prop 8 case and their attorneys as the descended the steps behind him. God proves yet again S/He has a sense of justice.
Yet, it wasn’t a week of all wins in the fight for equality. The previous day, by the same 5-4 vote that awarded some semblance of equality to gay and lesbian couples, SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. States that attempted to put restrictions on voting, only to have them thrown out in court, rejoiced. Texas’ Attorney General said he would move quickly to institute a Voter ID law. Other states have limited voter registration periods, early balloting opportunities, or Election Day voting hours. Rather than encouraging a right that many Americans hold sacred and bemoan low turnout, some states in the north and south are doing their best to suppress access to the that right. I feel the need to point out these are being done in states with Republicans in power.

Growing up as a Caucasian family in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, we learned a lesson on race at a very early age. My father told me when I was five or six that if my friend Kenny and I got “boo-boos,” we’d both bleed the same color blood. I never forgot that. I also never heard either of my parents utter a discriminatory word, phrase or epithet. My mom and I attended the 15th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1978, going to D.C. with our neighbors; we were the only Caucasians on the bus. I went to public schools and a community college where my classmates ranged in age from 17 to 72 and there was a mixture of races, ethnicities and religions (or no religion at all). It’s why I feel comfortable in any group, except in those that espouse hatred in any form. Sadly, there are many such groups still around. Some of them even have representation in Congress. While I agree with one point made by the SCOTUS majority – areas under federal watch need to be expanded – I don’t expect Congress, the House in particular, to be up to the challenge.

As we end Pride Month, we still should celebrate the progress that has been made, while committing ourselves to the fight for equality and winning the struggles that remain.

One last thing…there are several websites that help LGBT couples navigate the confusing road to semi-equality. Lambda Legal has a good round-up. It’s time for Pete and me to have a will, health-care proxy and all of the other legal paperwork that protects us, even though there is a question as to whether other states would honor it.

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