Marriage Takes Center Stage in 2013

(Continued from Page 1)
by Lisa Keen
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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."

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