Landmark US Supreme Court decisions view civil rights through marriage equality

Lys Anzia – WNN Breaking

United States Supreme Court building
The outer facade on the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. displays the words “Equal – Justice – Under – Law,” a tenant used in today’s Supreme Court decision. Image: Mark Fischer/Flickr

(WNN) Washington, D.C., UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: As a majority of Americans begin to accept sexual diversity identity as a ‘normal fact of life’, two momentous Supreme Court decisions were made today as LGBTI citizens in the U.S. discover that more legal and equal civil rights under U.S. federal law, 1,000 federal benefit rights, have now been opened to those who were previously denied.

Victories for those hoping for years to gain civil rights under the issue of sanctions placed against LGBTIs because of the DOMA – Defense of Marriage Act law and more recent sanctions through the State of California’s Proposition 8, which brought a more recent denial of previous rights for marriage equality in California, has brought joy to the nation’s widening support for all those working toward ‘equal rights for all’.

The new legal decision on DOMA by the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to affect millions of gay women and men, as well as the intersex community in the United States, many who have petitioned, worked and pleaded for equal civil rights under the law for decades.

In 2011 Gary Gates, University of California (Los Angeles) with the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, said the latest assessment in the number of people identifying themselves as gay or lesbian inside the United States now numbers 4 million, a number much larger than marriage equality opponents have described.

Those who live with intersexuality, as persons who were born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male, may also find more freedoms inside the new definition on marriage rights as defined by the DOMA decision today.

In an act of support, U.S. President Barack Obama has also been adding his voice to the issue: “Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for . .

This wasn’t the first statement of support the President has given on twitter, “Same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he said in tweet made on Twitter last May (2013).

83-year-old Edith Windsor, known fondly as Edie by her fans, has been considered by many as the spearhead and icon for the modern marriage equality movement, as Edie and her attorneys worked to bring her personal case up to the level of the U.S. Supreme Court. Challenging the U.S. IRS policy for tax laws under rights for equality, Edie’s case brought clear insight into the issues facing many LGBTIs under today’s modern U.S. civil rights freedoms.

“We stayed engaged for 40 years. We lived through many carefree years each with jobs that we loved, I as an senior assistance programmer at IBM, Thea [my life partner] as a clinical psychologist. We had great friends and we partied and we danced, oh we danced, and we lived through the vicissitudes of aging and illness,” Edie described during a June 7, 2012  NYCLU, ACLU press conference  as she shared details about her partner Thea Spyer and their relationship of commitment, loyalty and courage that surrounded the couple.

In 1977 Thea was diagnosed with progressive MS – Multiple Sclerosis. In 2007, after Thea was given a prognosis of only one year to live, Edie and Thea decided to get married legally in Canada.

“We realized we couldn’t wait. And we were married May 22, 2007 in Toronto by Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone who presides in Ontario Family Court, thus ending our 40 year engagement,” added Edie.

Edie conveyed that she cried today when the Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA was announced.

Thea Spyer and Edith (Edie) Windsor in their younger days
Thea Spyer and Edith (Edie) Windsor, in their younger days. Image: NYU Alumni Assoc

“After so many lives of suffering this is not mere abstract justice it has real life consequences…the days of ‘skim milk marriage’ as defined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are over,” said Roberta Kaplan, attorney and legal counselor for Edie before and during the days of the Supreme Court DOMA case.

Winning on issues of equality under civil rights inside the United States, Edith Windsor will now be able to recover $363,000 she lost to the IRS in extra taxes due only because she was not considered ‘legally’ married when her partner Thea died leaving Edie her money. The Court has now determined that these sanctions against Edie, based only on her sexual identity as described through DOMA, was an unconstitutional act.

“…The Constitution’s guarantee of equality ‘must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot’ justify disparate treatment of that group…DOMA cannot survive under these principles,” says part of the text of the new and now present Supreme Court decision.

“Among the over 1,000 statutes and numerous federal regulations that DOMA controls are laws pertaining to Social Security, housing, taxes, criminal sanctions, copyright, and veterans’ benefits,” continued today’s court decision. “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person,” the decision added.

DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act – was brought into U.S. law almost 17 years ago by a large majority vote in both U.S. federal legislative houses. It was approved and signed into officially into policy by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The new policy required a never-before-definition in the legal use of the words  “spouse” and/or “marriage,” a definition that described marriages and civil unions in the U.S. as a “marriage between a man and a woman.”

“I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages and this legislation is consistent with that position. The Act confirms the right of each state to determine its own policy with respect to same gender marriage and clarifies for purposes of federal law the operative meaning of the terms ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’,” said former President Clinton upon the signing of the bill in 1996.

“I also want to make clear to all that the enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against any person on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination, violence and intimidation for that reason, as well as others, violate the principle of equal protection under the law and have no place in American society,” he continued at the time.

Today former President Clinton thinks his signing of the DOMA bill was a large mistake. “Today’s decisions are a great step forward for . Grateful to all who fought tirelessly for this day,” tweeted former President Clinton today on Twitter

To put gay people in one category and straight people in another, that’s what the court decision was examining, outlined legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, in a CNN broadcast today that discussed the constitutionality of DOMA.

LGBTIs in the State of California are also celebrating today as Proposition 8 has officially been struck down by the federal Supreme Court.

“The larger issues of gay rights have hardly been met,” said Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom, offering a dedicated California state focus to extend civil rights equally. “We can’t be bystanders on this journey,” the Newsom continued.

“By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the Court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union. We are also encouraged that marriage equality may soon return to California. We applaud the hard work of the advocates who have fought so relentlessly for this day, and congratulate Edie Windsor on her historic victory,” said former President Clinton in a formal statement released today by the Clinton Foundation.

Currently 12 out of 50 U.S. states have legalized marriage equality as one of the civic institutions that must be made available to all LGBTIs. These states include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and New York, among others.


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