A conservative George H. W. Bush nominee on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals authored a strong decision today declaring section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Earlier this year, a federal district court judge in Connecticut, that one a Bush-43 nominee, also declared the law unconstitutional. So did a unanimous panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case before the 2nd Circuit was that of Edith Windsor, an octogenarian in New York who lost her wife in 2009; they had been together for forty years. The New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Windsor, described her case in a press release this summer:
Windsor and Spyer lived together for more than four decades in Greenwich Village. Despite not being able to marry legally, they were engaged in 1967. In 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with that disease. They were finally legally married in May 2007.
When Spyer died in 2009, she left all of her property to Windsor. Because they were married, Spyer's estate normally would have passed to Edie as her spouse without any estate tax at all. But because of DOMA, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Payment of the federal estate tax by a surviving spouse is one of the most significant adverse impacts of DOMA since the amount owed, as was true in this case, is often quite substantial.
"Edie Windsor, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday, suffers from a serious heart condition," said Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul Weiss and counsel to Windsor. "Because the District Court's ruling in her favor is entitled to an automatic stay of enforcement, Edie cannot yet receive a refund of the unconstitutional estate tax that she was forced to pay simply for being gay. The constitutional injury inflicted on Edie should be remedied within her lifetime."
The 2nd Circuit opinion leaves no ambiguity as to the discriminatory harm done by section 3 of DOMA. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress pulls out this paragraph of the decision:
[W]e conclude that review of Section 3 of DOMA requires heightened scrutiny. The Supreme Court uses certain factors to decide whether a new classification qualifies as a quasi-suspect class. They include: A) whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination,”; B) whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,” C) whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;” and D) whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.” Immutability and lack of political power are not strictly necessary factors to identify a suspect class. Nevertheless, immutability and political power are indicative, and we consider them here. In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.
That’s an unambiguous indictment of DOMA and of all laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians. Nevertheless, House Speaker John Boehner, who has now spent $1.5 million taxpayer dollars in an attempt to defend DOMA, is likely to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. But the easier option, as PFAW president Michael Keegan points out in a statement today, would be for Congress just to repeal DOMA. It’s done enough harm to millions of people like Edie Windsor, and its effects will become clearer as more and more gay and lesbian couples are allowed to marry, and find that their marriages aren’t recognized by the federal government.
It has been known for years that Chick-fil-A supports right-wing groups. The company has given out gift cards at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit. At a recent Religious Right gathering, a speaker talked about how wonderful it was to live and work in Atlanta, where, he said, there’s a Baptist church on every corner and the streets are paved with Chick-fil-A.
So I am no fan of Chick-fil-A, but I’m a big fan of freedom, and that includes Chick-fil-A’s freedom to open its restaurants, even in cities where progressive political leaders don’t like the reactionary politics promoted by the company and its owners.
There’s been a robust campaign by advocates for LGBT equality to call more attention to Chick-fil-A’s contributions to “traditional family” groups, which total in the millions of dollars. But the feathers really flew when company president Dan Cathy made comments in an interview with Baptist Press bragging about his company’s position on marriage – “guilty as charged” -- and his comments to an Atlanta radio station.
I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” said Cathy.
I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about,” he added.
It’s no surprise that Cathy’s comments have stirred supporters of LGBT equality to respond. Much of that response has been in the best traditions of free speech and protest. In Washington, D.C., this week, the Human Rights Campaign organized a protest in front of a Chick-Fil-A food truck. Other activists have rallied outside Chick-Fil-A stores and some students have protested the company’s presence on their campuses.
In addition, a number of political leaders have spoken out in defense of marriage equality and in opposition to the company’s support for discrimination. Twenty years ago, I would never have imagined elected officials taking the time to publicly criticize a business on behalf of the ability of same-sex couples to get married. It’s a good thing – a sign of amazing progress.
But a couple of politicians have gone too far – suggesting that the power of government should be used to prevent the company from opening restaurants based on its political donations and the positions of its owners. That’s not a good thing. As a matter of principle, the government shouldn’t treat individuals differently based on their political or religious beliefs, or companies based on the political activities and contributions of their owners. As others have noted, we wouldn’t want cities or states to have the power to prevent the opening of stores whose owners support LGBT equality or other progressive causes.
People For the American Way’s headquarters is located in the District of Columbia, where elected officials have recognized that LGBT people should be treated equally under the law. DC’s progressive public policies stand in stark contrast to the anti-equality work of groups like the Family Research Council, but we would never suggest that the DC government could or should have prevented FRC from planting its headquarters in the center of downtown DC. Our commitment to freedom and equality should extend to those who don’t share it.
Congressman Allen West (R-FL) is out with a new ad this week. Set to soaring, dramatic music, the Congressman tells the story of his upbringing and how describes how his father gave him the opportunity live the American Dream. He runs through typical Republican talking points calling for tax cuts and slashing services, and laments the failings of Washington. It’s standard campaign-ad fare, and he concludes by stating “I’m just getting started; that’s the American Way.”
However, West’s record suggests that his notion of the “American Way” is rather at odds with the Constitution’s promise of freedom and equality for all.
The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religion for all Americans, and Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” But West thinks that Representative Keith Ellison (D-MI), a practicing Muslim, represents the "antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established." He also harbors some vehemently anti-Islamic ideas.
America is a country that values free speech and open debate. Yet West has a habit of resorting to calling his colleagues who disagree with him Communists. Liberals, he said, can just “Get the hell out of the United States of America.”
Freedom of the press doesn’t seem to be high on his list either. He once called for censoring American news agencies for publishing information about the government’s activities.
West believes America is a land of opportunity – something to which he owes his own success – but “equality” and “fairness” somehow fly in the face of liberty. Marriage equality, he says, is not only un-American but will destroy society as we know it.
Congressman West may have produced a slick ad, but the agenda he pushes in Congress would increase inequality, harm working families, destroy core constitutional liberties and cripple Americans’ ability to address pressing problems through government. That’s not the American Way.
This afternoon, the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear an appeal of the Prop 8 case. In February, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit struck down Prop 8, finding California's revocation of the right of same-sex couples to marry same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit's decision means that either the Supreme Court will take up the case or the 9th Circuit’s decision striking down the law will stand.
The appeals court ruling is on narrow grounds unique to California, where same-sex couples were left with all the state rights of marriage but not the name. It found that taking away gay and lesbian couples’ designation of “marriage” while leaving their rights unchanged did not serve any of the purposes put forth by its defenders. Instead, its only purpose and effect was to lessen a targeted group’s status and dignity by reclassifying their relationship and families as inferior. The Court did not address the larger question of whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. While the Supreme Court will be presented with the narrower question as framed by the Ninth Circuit, it is impossible to tell, if it agrees to hear the case at all, whether they will rule on this principle or more broadly on the ability of states to deny lesbians and gays the right to marry.
A federal appeals court in Boston today upheld a lower court ruling that called the key section of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA bans the federal government from recognizing legal marriages between people of the same sex, meaning that it willfully discriminates against a set of married people when it comes to Social Security benefits, joint-filing tax breaks, military spousal benefits and immigration. When DOMA was passed in 1996 no states allowed gay and lesbian couple to marry – its provisions were purely theoretical. Today, marriage equality exists in six states and the District of Columbia, and DOMA actively harms thousands of married Americans – 100,000 couples, according to the court.
In its decision concluding that DOMA violates the Constitution, the unanimous First Circuit panel – two out of three of whom were nominated by Republican presidents – was cautious. The panel said that under First Circuit precedent DOMA doesn’t trigger “heightened scrutiny” – a tougher standard for the federal government to meet. It also declined to address any arguments based on the premise that lesbians and gays have a constitutional right to marry (as opposed to having their existing marriages recognized by the federal government).
But the court was clear that Section 3 of DOMA does not meet the “rational basis” test for upholding a federal law that denies equal protection to a group long subject to discrimination – in other words, there’s just no good reason for DOMA to do the harm that it does.
The court looked at several justificiations offered for the law by DOMA’s supporters and found that each comes up short. Supporters say DOMA will save the federal government money (reports say that it actually costs the government money…and saving money isn’t a good enough reason for legal discrimination in the first place); that allowing lesbians and gays to marry harms children (it doesn’t, and Section 3 of DOMA doesn’t affect these couples’ rights to raise children anyway); and just plain moral disapproval (Supreme Court precedent says this isn’t enough of a reason). And finally, the court takes on the constant argument of opponents of same-sex marriage: that somehow gay couples getting married will harm the institution of marriage for everyone else:
Although the House Report is filled with encomia to heterosexual marriage, DOMA does not increase benefits to opposite-sex couples--whose marriages may in any event be childless, unstable or both--or explain how denying benefits to same-sex couples will reinforce heterosexual marriage. Certainly, the denial will not affect the gender choices of those seeking marriage. This is not merely a matter of poor fit of remedy to perceived problem, but a lack of any demonstrated connection between DOMA's treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage.
This is the crux of any number of court decisions that have struck down barriers to marriage equality. The main reason given for many laws that seek to deny marriage rights to gays and lesbians is that same-sex marriage will somehow weaken marriage for everybody else. It’s a claim that just doesn’t hold water.
The First Circuit panel did, however, go out of its way to defend DOMA’s supporters even while rejecting the law.
The District Court judge whose ruling the appeals court upheld declared that DOMA was motivated by “irrational prejudice” toward gays and lesbians. The First Circuit explicitly refuses to go there, instead stating that while that may have been true for some supporters, others were motivated instead by what it characterizes as the non-biased wish to “preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization.” Under recent Supreme Court precedent, they write, the wish to uphold tradition isn’t a good enough one for denying equal protection. But the Supreme Court can change that if it wants:
In reaching our judgment, we do not rely upon the charge that DOMA's hidden but dominant purpose was hostility to homosexuality. The many legislators who supported DOMA acted from a variety of motives, one central and expressed aim being to preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization. Preserving this institution is not the same as "mere moral disapproval of an excluded group," and that is singularly so in this case given the range of bipartisan support for the statute.
The opponents of section 3 point to selected comments from a few individual legislators; but the motives of a small group cannot taint a statute supported by large majorities in both Houses and signed by President Clinton. Traditions are the glue that holds society together, and many of our own traditions rest largely on belief and familiarity--not on benefits firmly provable in court. The desire to retain them is strong and can be honestly held. For 150 years, this desire to maintain tradition would alone have been justification enough for almost any statute. This judicial deference has a distinguished lineage, including such figures as Justice Holmes, the second Justice Harlan, and Judges Learned Hand and Henry Friendly. But Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years call for closer scrutiny of government action touching upon minority group interests and of federal action in areas of traditional state concern.
Recognizing that the Supreme Court will likely review its reasoning, the court stayed the decision, so it will not go into effect yet.
Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side.
In recent years, more and more Americans have come to understand that preventing loving same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to the people they care about. In families and communities across the country, Americans are coming to the same conclusion as the President: when two people make a public commitment to love and care for each other, that’s a marriage no matter what the gender of the people involved.
Today the President did the right thing. For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone banked to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this President in the first place.
Now, we must redouble our efforts to knock down one of the biggest barriers to full legal equality nationwide: the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
With your continued dedication to core American values like Equality, and your support of our work expand the promise of our country and our Constitution to all families, together, we’ll Dump DOMA and achieve basic fairness for all: the American Way.
Today, President Obama at last acknowledged that he personally supports the right to marry for gay and lesbian Americans. Although the president maintains his position that marriage laws should be decided on a state-by-state basis, his personal statement provides a huge boost to the marriage equality movement. At a time when over half of Americans want full marriage rights for gays and lesbians, the endorsement of a sitting president is a meaningful signal of progress.
Sixteen years ago, in May 1996, People For the American Way became one of the first national groups to endorse marriage equality and vow to work toward it. In a note to members of the organization’s board, which was to vote on the issue, PFAW’s staff wrote that the Right had started to use the “marriage issue” to “polarize Americans” – a strategy that had its first major victory in the passage of DOMA later that year.
Despite all the progress that has been made for LGBT equality in the past sixteen years, the 1996 memo could have been written yesterday:
In recent years, People For the American Way has come to be a very important voice in the ongoing effort to rid America of discrimination and prejudice against gay men and lesbians.
We have done that over the years for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. Opposing discrimination and fostering respect and appreciation for diversity are core values for People For the American Way. These are precisely the values under attack in this latest campaign.
Of course, the marriage issue has very real implications for the everyday lives of millions of Americans. In the area of health care for example, existing marriage laws allow a spouse to make critical decisions for an incapacitated spouse; not so for unmarried couples wou haven’t gone through the necessary legal steps. In many hospitals, the right to visit patients in an intensive care unit is limited to immediate family; gay and lesbian partners – lacking the legal status of family – are often excluded, to the great detriment of both partners. In addition, enormous economic consequences flow from the inability of gay men and lesbians to marry, including significant tax and inheritance benefits.
The lack of legal recognition of gay and lesbian families is of particular concern when children are involved, since the children are deprived of the protection of a legal relationship with the non-biological parent and the ability of that parent to make important decisions for them in any number of settings, including schools and hospitals. And if the biological parent dies, the children may well be taken away from their other parent, who has no legal relationship with them.
Sixteen years later, marriage discrimination continues to hurt gay and lesbian American and their families. That a sitting president has publicly acknowledged the impact of that discrimination is very powerful. We hope that soon the injustice we outlined in 1996 will be hopelessly out of date.
As North Carolinians go to the polls today to cast their ballot on an anti-gay constitutional amendment which would write discrimination into the state’s constitution and potentially harm all unmarried couples regardless of orientation, The Guardian put together an interactive feature summarizing the state of LGBT equality across America.
The infographic examines each state’s laws pertaining to LGBT persons’ right to marry, visit loved ones in the hospital or adopt a child, as well as protections from hate crimes and from discrimination in employment, housing and schools. While progress has been made, there is much work to be done.
Regardless of today’s vote, North Carolina will not be adding a dark red section to the outer ring, since state law already prohibits same-sex marriage. The proposed amendment simply inscribes discrimination into the state constitution.
Unfortunately, not all Americans have access to the all the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide, and this map demonstrates striking differences from state to state and region to region. That’s why we need the federal Respect for Marriage Act more than ever – to ensure that all Americans, straight and gay, are treated equally under the law.
North Carolina voters today are casting their ballots on Amendment One, an extreme measure that would write discrimination into the state’s consitution and potentially take away important protections for all unmarried couples, gay and straight.
The amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina. It would not only deal another blow to gay and lesbian couples in the state, who are already prohibited by law from marrying, but endangers protections for all unmarried couples, including domestic violence protections and health insurance coverage.
The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families is running a handful of powerful ads showing Amendment One’s potential devastating impact. Here are a couple:
President Bill Clinton also recorded a robocall on behalf of the anti-Amendment One campaign. You can listen to it here.
North Carolina voters can find your polling place here.
By Dolores Huerta
I am a proud Latina and a proud supporter of LGBT rights.
The National Organization for Marriage seems to think I can’t be both.
In a 2009 strategy document that was made public last month, NOM outlines a “wedge” strategy to drive black and Latino Americans away from supporting gay rights. About Latinos, NOM writes, “Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We can interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity.”
There are many great values that can be put forward as “key badges of Latino identity.” Opposition to gay rights should not be one of them. In fact, if NOM wants to keep Latinos from embracing LGBT equality, they’re already falling behind. A poll late last year found that a majority of Latinos – like a majority of all Americans – support legal recognition of same-sex unions. Opposition to LGBT rights is no more a hallmark of Latino culture than it is of American culture as a whole.
This is the deep cynicism of NOM and other groups that devote themselves to stopping equality for gay and lesbian Americans. They will attempt to exploit and inflame existing prejudices and fears in order to reach the ends they desire. They forget that the people they attempt to exploit have our own thoughts, opinions and experiences. We have our own relationships with God. We have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friends and family members. And we know when we’re being used. Nom should learn what Latinos live by, the words of the great Mexican President Benito Juarez, “Respecting the rights of others is Peace.”
NOM’s attempt to stir up mutual resentment between African Americans, Latinos and the gay community echoes some of the most destructive politics of our past. That they are resorting to this kind of dangerous and divisive tactic shows just how desperate the anti-gay movement has become.
NOM’s mistake is to think that our cultural identity is a definition of who we are not and whom we are against. But of course, our identities are definitions of who we are and what we love. Latinos across America are embracing equal rights for our gay and lesbian friends and family. Those of us who support LGBT equality haven’t abandoned our Latino identity. We’re embracing the values that define who we are as individuals, as Latinos and as Americans.
Dolores Huerta is a member of the board of People For the American Way.