Marriage Takes Center Stage in 2013

by Lisa Keen
Sunday Dec 29, 2013
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Sandee Henry and Jennifer Carlin celebrated the Supreme Court’s positive decisions about DOMA and Proposition 8 on June 26 in San Francisco City Hall
Sandee Henry and Jennifer Carlin celebrated the Supreme Court’s positive decisions about DOMA and Proposition 8 on June 26 in San Francisco City Hall  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

Even before 2013 began, everyone knew what the big news story would be. The U.S. Supreme Court had, in December 2012, agreed to hear two high-profile marriage cases: One testing the right of the federal government to refuse equal benefits to same-sex married couples, and the other testing the right of a state to ban same-sex couples from marrying.

What no one knew for sure was how the court would rule. And speculation last December was all over the map. Even longtime court observers who routinely cautioned against predicting how the court might rule couldn’t resist speculating how the court might rule.

There was unprecedented media attention and public interest in the oral arguments, held on successive days in March. And then, on June 26, the court ruled, striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act and re-establishing marriage equality in California. The results were not everything the LGBT community wished for, but they were far more than many in the community expected to see in their lifetime.

Those two rulings alone made 2013 perhaps the "Best Year Ever for the LGBT Movement" toward equal rights in this country. Their impact was deep and wide, politically, symbolically, and literally. But there were other breathtaking developments - including the unexpected - that secured 2013 as the most successful year in the movement’s seven decades of organized struggle. Here are our picks:

No. 10: The Senate Gets Its First Openly Gay Member

Representative Tammy Baldwin (D), a seven-term congresswoman from Madison, Wisconsin, who embodied the polite, witty, but determined temperament of a Midwesterner, added another "first" to her already long list of accomplishments. Before January, she was already the first open lesbian elected to the Wisconsin Assembly, the first openly gay person elected to Congress, the first out lesbian in the House, and the first woman elected to Congress from Wisconsin. After being sworn in to the 113th session, she became Wisconsin’s first woman senator and the Senate’s first openly gay member. Her colleagues praised her diplomacy in the successful effort to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act approved by the Senate and she became the first rookie senator to win the Senate’s Golden Gavel Award for having presided over the chamber’s activities for more than 100 hours.


Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to President Barack Obama during the Inaugural swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2013  (Source:Official White House Photo: Sonya N. Hebert)

No. 9: Congress Gets Its Largest-Ever LGBT Caucus

Not only was Baldwin in the Senate, as of the start of the 113th Congress, there were six openly LGBT members in the House of Representatives, and by year’s end, there was seven. Prior to 2013, the LGBT Caucus numbered four and, with the retirement of Representative Barney Frank at the end of 2012, it looked like it might dwindle to three: Baldwin and Congressmen Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island). But fresh off newcomer victories in November 2012, the four new openly LGBT reps were sworn in: Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), Mark Takano (D-California), Sean Maloney (D-New York), and Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin). And, in November, Representative Mike Michaud (D-Maine) came out in an op-ed to ward off a whisper campaign by his opponents in the 2014 Maine gubernatorial race. The caucus size doubled to eight over the previous high.

No. 8: The Senate Passes ENDA for the First Time

The Senate had voted on the ENDA once before in the bill’s nearly four decades as the LGBT movement’s flagship piece of legislation. In that first tally, taken in 1996, it lost by one vote. This year, it passed 64-32, and only one senator spoke against it (longtime gay civil rights opponent Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana). A Republican-dominated House gives the bill virtually no chance to even reach the floor there, but passage in the Senate signaled that a new and friendlier political landscape had been established in LGBT civil rights.

No. 7: Obama’s Second Inaugural Promotes Equality

He had already "evolved" to the point where he stated publicly, in May 2012, that he supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. And while LGBT leaders always hope a major presidential address will at least mention LGBT people when identifying the nation’s strength in diversity, no one had expected President Barack Obama to go beyond that in his second inaugural.

But he went much further: "We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal - is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall. ... Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."


Tennis great Billie Jean King is part of the U.S. delegation to Sochi  (Source:Courtesy PBS)

No. 6: NJ Drops Appeal of Court Ruling that Struck State Marriage Ban

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor that the key provision of the DOMA was unconstitutional, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund asked a state court judge in New Jersey to rule in a pending case, Garden State v. Dow, that the state ban on marriage was harming same-sex couples by preventing them from having access to federal benefits associated with marriage.

The judge did just that in late September and ordered the state to comply starting October 21. When Republican Governor Chris Christie sought an emergency stay of that order, the state supreme court rejected the request and New Jersey became the 14th state with marriage equality. The unanimous and forceful reasoning in the court’s refusal prompted Christie to drop his appeal of the ruling, providing another powerful political sign that acceptance of the right of gay people to equal protection of the law was becoming the new expectation.

No. 5: Five State Legislatures Adopt Marriage Equality

Rhode Island (April), Delaware (May), Minnesota (May), Illinois (November), and Hawaii (November). In the 10 years prior, only four state legislatures and the District of Columbia had approved marriage equality legislation and seen it signed into law.

The debate in each legislature was marked by emotional and dramatic testimony, much of it from former opponents of same-sex marriage who had evolved on the issue. A Rhode Island senator spoke of being a lifelong devout Catholic who said, "I struggled with this for days and weeks and have been unable to sleep." In the end, she said, she could not vote against friends and constituents in same-sex relationships.

In Hawaii, where same-sex couples mounted one of the first legal challenges in the country in the 1990s, opponents organized an unprecedented flood of citizens to public hearings - thousands of people expressed anger and threats of political retribution. But the resolve of legislators willing to stand "on the right side of history" held firm. By year’s end, 18 states and the District of Columbia had approved marriage equality, with the New Mexico Supreme Court clearing the way in that state December 19, and a federal judge in Utah ruling a day later that the state’s anti-same-sex marriage law was unconstitutional.

No. 4: Russia Passes Laws Outlawing ’Promotion’ of Homosexuality

In June and July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws to prohibit the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors," any public displays of affection by same-sex couples, public events related to LGBT people, and any adoptions of Russian children by couples from countries where marriage equality is law. One Russian law even allows authorities to arrest and detain anyone suspected of being gay or pro-gay.

LGBT activist groups immediately pushed back, some calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics scheduled for Sochi, Russia, in February. The boycott idea quickly faded, but many U.S. officials found ways to register their unhappiness over the draconian legislation. Obama said that countries participating in the Olympics "wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently" during the 2014 Olympics. He also canceled his one-on-one meeting with Putin at a September G-20 summit, citing "human rights and civil society" issues.

Pressure on corporate sponsors of the events elicited statements in support of LGBT people and one international human rights organization called on the Obama administration to include LGBT leaders in its official delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies.

In mid-December, the White House announced that neither Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden would be attending the games, and the U.S. delegation is being led by a former Cabinet official, Janet Napolitano, currently the UC president. Three out gay athletes will be among those joining her: tennis great Billie Jean King, hockey player Caitlin Cahow, and skater Brian Boitano, who publicly came out as gay December 19, two days after the White House’s announcement.


Edie Windsor prevailed in her lawsuit against the federal government  (Source:Courtesy ACLU)

No. 3: Obama Responds to Supreme Court Rulings

In 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting private intimate contact between same-sex partners (in Lawrence v. Texas), then-President George W. Bush had nothing to say and his administration took no action to determine to what extent the Lawrence ruling might apply to various federal programs.

Following the two landmark rulings in marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court in 2013, Obama issued an immediate statement in support of the rulings and "directed the attorney general to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly."

Two major federal departments announced that their interpretations of the U.S. v. Windsor opinion would bring benefits to married same-sex couples regardless of whether a couple’s state of residence recognizes the marriage. And the Internal Revenue Service announced that legally married same-sex couples "will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes," including for income tax filing, gift and estate taxes, individual retirement accounts, and in other tax regulations where marriage is a factor.

No. 2: Supreme Court Leaves Intact Ruling that Struck Down Prop 8

With Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the defenders of Proposition 8, the California voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, did not have proper federal standing to appeal a district court judge’s ruling that the measure was unconstitutional. It was not, in other words, a ruling on the merits of the underlying legal issue in Hollingsworth v. Perry. But by refusing to accept the Yes on 8 appeal, the court left the district court judge’s ruling intact, and same-sex couples began obtaining marriage licenses once again in California.

Reaction was understandably euphoric from LGBT legal activists and the thousands of supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside the Supreme Court building in Washington and City Hall in San Francisco where the case began in 2009. The Perry decision, and another that struck down the key provision of DOMA, were issued on the 10th anniversary of the aforementioned Lawrence v. Texas decision. And while the Perry decision fell short of declaring all state bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, it set off a tidal wave of new litigation seeking to do just that. At year’s end, Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson estimated there are 44 lawsuits in 19 or 20 states "moving forward."

No. 1: Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Provision of DOMA

With Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court declared on June 26 that the key provision of DOMA was unconstitutional. That provision, known as Section 3, had barred any federal entity from recognizing for the purpose of any benefit the valid marriage license of a same-sex couple. The majority opinion in U.S. v. Windsor said DOMA Section 3 violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The DOMA decision, said Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders Civil Rights Director Mary Bonauto who organized the first lawsuit against Section 3, "not only strikes DOMA but makes clear what we’ve been saying all along - that DOMA is discriminatory and that it is an effort by the federal government to deprive same-sex couples of their rights and to demean them."

The decision began working like the first domino to fall in a long line of laws, state and federal, that deprived same-sex couples of equal benefits. State legislators cited it during debates over marriage equality bills; state and federal courts cited it to strike down other DOMA-like laws and regulations.

"It seems fair to conclude that, until recent years, many citizens had not even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage," wrote Kennedy. "For marriage between a man and a woman no doubt had been thought of by most people as essential to the very definition of that term and to its role and function throughout the history of civilization. That belief, for many who long have held it, became even more urgent, more cherished when challenged. For others, however, came the beginnings of a new perspective, a new insight. Accordingly some States concluded that same-sex marriage ought to be given recognition and validity in the law for those same-sex couples who wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other. The limitation of lawful marriage to heterosexual couples, which for centuries had been deemed both necessary and fundamental, came to be seen in New York and certain other states as an unjust exclusion."


Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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