We’re equal under the law
By Kathi Wolfe
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) marks a historic day for gay and lesbian Americans. For the first time, the nation’s highest court has said that we’re equal under the law.
In United States v. Windsor, the court struck down DOMA. Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 with overwhelming congressional support, this shameful law has denied same-sex couples the federal benefits of marriage. Since its passage, it has prohibited gays and lesbians who have married in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal from receiving the more than 1,138 benefits the federal government grants to married couples.
Straight couples may take these benefits for granted. But for same-sex couples, the denial of these benefits has had serious, practical consequences.
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought down DOMA, was told that she had to pay $300,000 in inheritance taxes when her partner died after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis. If her right to same-sex marriage in New York had not been superseded by DOMA, she wouldn’t have had to pay the inheritance tax.
Federal benefits range from breaks on inheritance taxes, Social Security benefits and pension benefits to military survivor’s benefits, hospital visitation rights and health care decisions.
When my partner was dying, the hospital only let me see her when they thought we were sisters. If we’d been able to marry, I wouldn’t have had to fight for visitation and other health care decision rights.
Now, my friends who are getting married in Maryland won’t have to worry about paying taxes if one of them dies. And they’ll receive tax breaks granted to straight married couples.
Equally important, because the court said that DOMA is unconstitutional, our equality under the law has been affirmed. As Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion in the decision, “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
Because same-sex marriage is prohibited in 38 states, millions of us are still not fully equal. We still can’t legally marry as straight couples can.
We don’t want special protection; we only want to love whom we love and to be treated like everybody else.
The Supreme Court has gone a long way toward recognizing this right.
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. Her poetry collection “The Green Light” is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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