Thursday, June 27, 2013

Spontaneous Celebrations Break Out in PTown as DOMA Discrimination is Ended

Impromptu celebrations of the DOMA ruling and the Proposition 8 decision took place at the
HRC store at the Aquarium Marketplace and all around the town several times over the day.
I happened to be passing the Aquarium Marketplace a few minutes after !0 o'clock yesterday morning, and from 50 feet down the block I heard a sudden eruption of cheers from a small crowd that had come together outside the doorway of the Human Rights Campaign shop. As I got closer I could see many folks jumping up and down, others shouting and whistling, and many who were waving cell phones, iPads and numerous other electronic devices in the air as they cheered, shouted with joy and hugged each other. The US Supreme Court had just announced its 5-4 decision in the case of United States v. Windsor, ruling that the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to same sex couples who were legally married in their own states was unconstitutional.
By a single vote the justices had found that this provision of the 17-year-old DOMA legislation unfairly denied same sex couples more than 1000 rights and federal benefits that marriage gives to heterosexual couples. The court's majority opinion held that denying these rights to a specific group of citizens created a different class of marriage that was not equal to other marriages where these rights were recognized. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had famously referred to "... these skim milk marriages" in March as the court considered arguments to decide whether it would hear the case. At the same time, the Obama administration had announced that it would not defend DOMA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
The DOMA ruling means that all married couples are now entitled to federal benefits relating to inheritance taxes, filing joint tax returns, claiming Social Security and veterans benefits, and a thousand other rights, as well as responsibilities, conferred on more than 72,000 legally married same-sex couples across the country. This ruling also helps to stabilize the families of these couples, who now can claim standing equal to other families under federal law.
The court also announced its decision on Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that had banned same-sex marriage in that state in 2008, not long after the state's supreme court had legalized it. Supporters of same sex-marriage then argued that such a ban was unconstitutional, and federal courts in California agreed. Then supporters of the ban asked the US Supreme court to uphold the ban, citing constitutional issues relating to rights of the state, but yesterday the US Supreme Court announced that it would decline to address those issues, stating that it lacked the jurisdiction to decide the case because those who had brought the case to the court lacked the proper standing, so the California court's ruling will stand, and same-sex marriage will once again be legal in California. Such marriages could take place there once again within a month. Current laws in other states remain unchanged.
Spontaneous celebrations of these two court decisions were found throughout the day as a group gathered in Town Hall, people on Commercial Street were jubilant, and the bell rang constantly for several minutes in the tower of the U U Meeting House, where a group had joyfully gathered on the lawn in front of the church.
In 2003 Massachusetts was the first state in the US to legalize marriage between same-sex couples. Since that time thousands of gay men and lesbians have come to PTown to get married. Statistics for this June won't be totaled until the end of the month, but by the last day of May, 3,455 same-sex couples had been married here. When California once again grants equal marriage rights, there will be 13 states, as well as the District of Columbia, where marriage equality thrives in this country. Married couples in these municipalities will all now be entitled to the same treatment under federal regulations, regardless of the genders of each couple, as will couples eventually marrying in other states that legalize same-sex marriages in the future. These two decisions by the court bring the United States a couple of steps closer to true equality for lesbian and gay people all over the country.

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