Heading Toward the Supremes
All eyes will be on Washington later this month, as the United States Supreme Court has announced that on September 29, they will consider whether to hear one or more of the federal marriage equality cases in their current term. If they take one of the cases, we could have a nationwide marriage ruling as soon as June 2015.
We reflected on the road that has led us to this point as we sat in the courtroom here at the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, where we recently attended oral arguments in the federal marriage equality cases for Nevada, Idaho, and Hawaii. Inside the courtroom, the lack of credible anti-equality arguments was evident, as demonstrated by the dubious analogies to sticks and balls repeatedly used by Monte Stewart, the lawyer arguing in favor of anti-marriage equality laws in both the Idaho and Nevada cases. If you weren’t there, you might have been confused by news items such as this one from Boise State Public Radio: “Stewart mentioned crystal balls several times during the hour long hearing”—a surreal turn that felt to those in the courtroom like the other side had clearly run out of ideas.
Outside the courtroom, we were reminded of the true meaning of love and marriage when we learned there are newlyweds in our family. The announcement came, not from one of our younger siblings or cousins, but from my 93-year-old uncle who married the wonderful woman who has spent the last four decades by his side. At the same time as the anti-equality lawyers before the 9th Circuit were arguing that straight couples will no longer wed or stay married once same-sex couples are able to marry, my uncle and aunt proved the opposite to be true. They married for the exact same reasons that all couples marry: to love, comfort, honor, and keep each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
Upon hearing their wedding news, one of our cousins remarked on the common themes that unite us in matrimony, whether gay or straight, young or old: “So sweet that they have decided to get married at this late date! Also wise, since it will give them the rights they deserve…just the same rights that same-sex marriage advocates are rightly fighting for.”
As a family, we see many parallels to the current marriage equality debates taking place today in courtrooms and dining rooms all across America. As a child of interracial parents who grew up in the 1960s, I know exactly what Judge Posner meant when he wrote earlier this month in the 7th Circuit marriage cases that asking interracial couples in the 1960s to accept “same-race unions” instead of marriage would have been “considered deeply offensive, and, having no justification other than bigotry…”
We are very thankful that the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that interracial couples have the freedom to marry all across our country. Today, as a gay American married in California, I know the time has come for the Supreme Court to rule that LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states have the basic human right to marry the person they love. We hope that as soon as next summer the justices do exactly that.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008.
Stunning Day in Court for Marriage Equality
Never before has the legal case for nationwide marriage equality seemed stronger than at the recent Federal Court of Appeal’s argument in the Indiana and Wisconsin marriage cases. For nearly two hours, the Seventh Circuit panel of three judges, appointed by Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama, tore gaping holes in every argument the states’ attorneys defending Indiana and Wisconsin’s marriage bans offered.
The states’ attorneys sometimes appeared at a loss for words or flustered, and the Wisconsin attorney even tried, unsuccessfully, to evade answering one of the Court’s questions by suggesting his time was up when it wasn’t. One judge referred to various arguments the states made as “feeble,” “absurd,” “ridiculous,” and “pathetic.” The states’ attorneys came up with nothing credible to defend the bans. When the Court asked Wisconsin’s attorney how ending the exclusion of LGBT couples from marriage would harm anyone else, he responded: “…[w]e don’t know.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of the argument was the respect all three judges evidenced for the dignity of LGBT Americans and their children. For decades, opponents of equality have slandered LGBT Americans by falsely accusing them of being harmful to children—be it Anita Bryant’s 1970s “Save the Children” campaigns, or the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign. Last year, the United States Supreme Court, in its decision striking down DOMA, held the opposite: anti-LGBT laws, in fact, harm children of LGBT parents.
The Supreme Court stated that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples…mak[ing] it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives…” The Seventh Circuit went further, with one judge referring to many of the harms that the states’ marriage bans have inflicted on children of LGBT parents as “harrowing” and noting America’s history of “savage” discrimination against lesbian and gay people based on “hate.”
Indiana and Michigan’s attorneys argued that their states could continue to bar same-sex couples from marriage because they claimed the purpose of marriage was to encourage unmarried heterosexuals who engage in sexual activity in which the woman became pregnant to stay together. The Court asked why the states did not criminalize heterosexual “fornication” outside of marriage instead, and it noted that the states’ current laws actually penalize LGBT couples who carefully plan their families.
One judge presented data showing that, in fact, from 1990-2009, years in which the same-sex marriage bans were in place, the proportion of out-of-marriage births increased 68% in Indiana and 53% in Wisconsin, with the out-of marriage birth rate for some demographic profiles over 90%. Noting that the states’ purported policy of banning same-sex marriage to prevent out-of-marriage births was “pretty unsuccessful,” the judge named the states’ argument for what it was, an ”artificial rationale” to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.
On Monday, September 8, the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco hears oral arguments in the Idaho, Nevada, and Hawaii cases. Stay tuned.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008.
Love Around the World
On our recent trip to Japan to speak on LGBTQ rights for Marriage Equality USA, we had the honor of addressing the crowd at Pink Dot Okinawa, a wonderful event with over 1,000 attendees who were treated to music, dance, speeches, and a beautiful marriage ceremony for Kazuki and Harold -- when the happy couple exchanged vows there was not a dry eye in the crowd.
Kazuki is from Okinawa, while Harold is American -- because they met during the days of DOMA they had to go into exile in order to be together. Luckily they were able to find work, live and marry in Canada. During that time, Kazuki's family back in Japan was not accepting of their relationship, but over the years their love has prevailed. An emotional highlight of Pink Dot Okinawa was the reading of a touching letter written by Kazuki's mother to celebrate the love of her son and son-in-law and to express her wishes for their happiness as a married couple.
Amazing events don't happen by themselves, and Pink Dot Okinawa is no exception -- it is the brainchild of Hideki Sunagawa, an activist and HIV/AIDS community worker for over a quarter century and one of the founders of Tokyo Pride. Hideki is also an academic with a PhD in cultural anthropology, and he brings that wisdom to his activism. In Hideki's own words:
"Though at this point in time Japan provides no legal recognition or protection for same-sex couples, we have reached a point where more and more same-sex couples are holding ceremonies like their heterosexual counterparts. Many gays and lesbians have been encouraged by these open and public celebrations of love and devotion, and as a result feel far more hopeful about building a future with their partners. ...the truth is that in Japan, most LGBTQ people with life partners do not or feel as if they cannot introduce them to their families. As such, I’ve come to think that by holding a public ceremony here in Kazuki’ s birthplace of Okinawa, we may be able to provide some hope for both those in the audience and Okinawa’ s local LGBTQ community in general. ... it is our belief that this event will not only allow the people of Okinawa to put faces to the idea of a same-sex couple, but also help to lay a groundwork for other such ceremonies throughout Japan."
This dream became a reality at Pink Dot Okinawa 2014 because of Hideki and an amazing team of hard-working and fun-loving volunteers who created a loving space in the central square of Naha, Okinawa. There are too many wonderful people we met there to name everyone individually, but we were inspired by the tireless efforts of Norito Irei who was with us from beginning to end, even introduced us to Okinawan cuisine, and then joined us for a presentation the following day at Okinawa University where he spoke movingly about his own experience growing up gay in Okinawa and what it’s like coming out there and in the United States.
Pink Dot started in Singapore and now includes events for LGBTQ acceptance around the world in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Montreal, and Salt Lake City. Our trip to Japan and the experience of Pink Dot Okinawa has filled us with hope in the power of love to create change around the world.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
MEUSA Celebrates Third Anniversary of New York Marriage Equality with Sea Tea Cruise
Celebrating the third anniversary of marriage equality in New York, over 100 Marriage Equality USA members and supporters boarded the Hornblower Yacht in New York City last Sunday for a night of food, fun, friends and music.
This annual MEUSA tradition has become one of the most fun events of the year. It is a chance for us to meet new friends from other organizations and local MEUSA supporters. Check out the photo gallery from the event!
Celebrating Today’s 4th Circuit Bostic Ruling -- Another Step Closer to the End of Amendment One!
As a gay person, North Carolinian, volunteer working against Amendment One, and now full-time marriage equality advocate, I was thrilled by today's 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer and its potential - eventually - to erase the stain of Amendment One from North Carolina's constitution. Like the other 28 court rulings since last year's landmark Windsor case, the 4th Circuit decision declares yet another& anti-marriage equality ban unconstitutional. Here is my favorite quote from the decision:
Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.
Though this decision was about the Virginia ban, implications have the potential to go beyond Virginia since the 4th Circuit has jurisdiction over other states without the freedom to marry, like North Carolina, as well as West Virginia and South Carolina. I say “potential” because the ruling does not take effect for at least 21 days and could be appealed to the full 4th Circuit or the Supreme Court of the United States(a.k.a. SCOTUS).
As Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of NC, explained to me, it’s likely that the ruling will not become final for a while. He thinks that SCOTUS will probably review the case. If this happens, Bostic could be the case, or one of the cases, SCOTUS will use to make an ultimate constitutional ruling. I fully expect SCOTUS to affirm that there is a constitutional right to the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. This 50-state-solution ruling, some lawyers predict, could come as early as June 2015 or 2016.
The more immediate “potential” of Bostic – as outlined by the ACLU of NC and Equality North Carolina – is if SCOTUS does not review the case. Then, couples can marry in Virginia and courts in North Carolina and the other two states can issue orders to apply the Bostic precedent in their state rendering those laws unconstitutional. Knowing that a similar law in Virginia has been ruled unconstitutional by the governing circuit court, local clerks and governmental officials might start marrying couples even before the state court issues orders. However, it's not clear if state or federal government would recognize those marriages.
In both the long-term and short-term cases, one thing is clear: Amendment One is one step closer to fading into history as an unconstitutional relic of our past. So I’m doing a “happy dance” anyway!
You see, I have a history with Amendment One. I was deeply involved in doing field work to defeat it for about a year -- from before it passed the NC General Assembly in September 2011 (by one vote) to the months leading up to when it overwhelmingly passed on 8 May 2012. I even resigned from my full-time job as a research manager to do all I could to defeat it; running 33 phone banks, speaking around the state and even being in a documentary about it, One: A Story of Love and Equality – which will be screened at the NC Gay and Lesbian Film Festival on August 17th and 21st.
All along, I instinctively knew Amendment One was unconstitutional. I felt it most strongly when I woke up on 9 May 2012, the morning after it passed overwhelmingly. I felt like we LGBTQ people had been “voted off the island” by our fellow North Carolinians. It felt like the tyranny of the majority – where decisions of a majority place their interests above those of an often misunderstood minority group. Amendment One – and other laws like it - was against what I understood America was all about. When I rode my bike in the Fourth of July parade at age seven (pictured below with a rainbow sweater on -- and I didn’t know!), I was proud of what our country stood for – freedom and equal opportunity. When Amendment One passed, it was a vote to restrict some people’s freedom to marry as an abuse of religious freedom. It felt un-American. In America, we tolerate differences and we don’t deny people rights just because we don’t understand them – or at least, we don’t do this indefinitely. We eventually come to our collective senses.
Yet despite the profound disappointment and loss we LGBTQ North Carolinians and our allies felt when Amendment One passed, the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of voter-approved bans on our freedom to marry appeared the very next day – and has only gotten brighter and brighter since then.
Below is a summary of the things that have helped erode support for Amendment One, and laws like it nationwide. It includes my perspective watching the movement unfold as a full-time advocate with an up-close view -- as either a spectator with a “front row seat” or as a “player on the field.”
1) On May 9, 2012, President Obama came out for marriage equality in a TV interview. Then on 19 May 2012, the NAACP - encouraged by NC’s esteemed NAACP leader William Barber - also endorsed marriage equality. This had a big “permission giver” effect. I recall one poll where support among African American voters in Maryland, for example, shot up shortly after.
From June until November, I worked for a pro-equality state senator who was running against someone I considered the “son of Amendment One.” After that unfortunate loss, and a new Republican super-majority in both houses, prospects of overturning Amendment One were even bleaker. North Carolinians had to look to other states for any movement on this issue.
2) Amazingly, four states won their marriage-related campaigns at the ballot in November 2012 – three to pass marriage equality (MD, ME and WA) and one (MN) to defeat another marriage ban. Having lived through the North Carolina experience (which had been common in about 30 other states before us), I was astounded at these results. I attended conferences in DC and Atlanta to find out how we won. It wasn’t just that sometime in 2012 many national polls showed a new majority supported the freedom to marry. Our movement had also gotten smarter about messaging in our campaigns. We dropped our focus on legal rights. Instead, beautiful TV commercials conveyed positive messages by “straight messengers” like:
- treat people as they would want to be treated
- same-sex couples marry for the same reasons everyone else does (i.e., love, family, protection and commitment)
- parents (not schools) teach their kids values
- it is not for us to judge
- freedom means freedom to everyone
3) In May 2013, I was lucky enough to get a job doing what I wanted to do – be a professional advocate for marriage equality. I moved to New York City to start working for Marriage Equality USA on May 8th – which was symbolically exactly a year after Amendment One had passed. Just after both Delaware and Rhode Island passed marriage equality, I began running phone banks in Times Square for Minnesota and Illinois, followed by New Jersey, Indiana and New Mexico for the National Equality Action Team (NEAT). MEUSA leads this coalition of nearly 50 organizations. For each state campaign, we had phone bankers calling voters in those states virtually from across the country -- including many volunteers I recruited from North Carolina. In fact, we set up a phone bank specifically for Illinois and then Indiana and New Mexico at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh. Our proudest moments were in assisting Illinois with over 700 voicemail messages left for 12 swing legislators – six of whom went our way – and marriage equality passed by just one vote. Likewise, in Indiana – which is arguably more conservative than North Carolina - we contributed to a close vote where legislators changed their extreme Amendment One-like bill, preventing it from going to the ballot in 2014 – and likely ever. At this point, I do not think it’s politically possible for any other state to even propose an anti-marriage equality amendment; their time has passed. North Carolina has the distinction of being the last state to pass one of these, and depending on what happens with SCOTUS and the Bostic case, it may be the shortest-lived amendment.
4) The big game-changer was the Windsor decision on June 26, 2013. One cannot overstate its impact. It has bolstered the case for marriage equality in federal courts, resulting in victory after victory with no losses. There are now 76 lawsuits among all the states that do not have marriage equality, including three that challenge Amendment One directly.
I had the opportunity - though our former long-time Board Chair Cathy Marino-Thomas – to ask Edie Windsor what gave her the courage to persist despite people saying her case was premature and could backfire with SCOTUS. Here is her reply in this short video:
5) Immediately after Windsor, federal discrimination against legally married, same-sex couples started to end – agency by agency – when they based their definition of who was married on the state in which a couple was married rather than their state of residence. It gave the out-of-state marriages of my friends in North Carolina legal meaning, with several hundred federal rights being extended to them for the first time. When I flew back to NC to commemorate the two- year anniversary of Amendment One on 8 May 2014, I noticed how many couples I knew were having spring weddings in nearby states. And as part of the courageous and beautiful WE DO campaign to raise awareness about their desire to marry and injustice of laws that deny this freedom, many North Carolina couples including Clifton and Dennis (and couples throughout the South) applied for marriage licenses in their home counties with the Campaign for Southern Equality. I was able to be there that day in my home town of Raleigh, NC to witness this.
6) And finally, public support in North Carolina is on the rise, at it is across the country. North Carolina’s public support for marriage equality rose from 34% in 2012 to 40% as of May 2014 according to Public Policy Polling. This figure lags behind the national average (now 54% according to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll) – but the trend is clear.
These are some of the events that have chipped away the legal credibility and morality of what was only two years ago an amendment which passed overwhelmingly. I am grateful that the 4th Circuit Bostic decision is the latest and most direct hit to Amendment One. The rising tide of justice across the United States and in our neighboring state of Virginia all help lift the gloomy cloud of Amendment One to clear the way to truer, bluer skies in my home state. I know that in a few days, when I leave New York -- which just celebrated its third anniversary of marriage equality last week -- and drive through Virginia back to North Carolina, I will come home with an even greater sense of hope that we LGBT people will be treated as the constitutionally and morally equal citizens that we know we are.
By Tracy Hollister, Program Manager, Marriage Equality USA. Tracy lived in North Carolina for nearly 20 years and worked as a volunteer marriage equality advocate for several years before moving to New York City to help advance marriage equality across the country. Now, the same week as the landmark Bostic decision, Tracy is moving back home to North Carolina to continue her work for MEUSA. To hear how and why she became a full-time advocate, listen to this half hour podcast.
A Four-Decade March Down the Aisle
Not every couple celebrates their first and 25th anniversaries in the same year. Then again, not every couple has navigated a roller coaster quite like the one Michael Sabatino and Robert Voorheis have – that of legal recognition of same gender relationships both as activists and a committed couple.
After a short courtship, the couple held their first nuptials in the form of a commitment ceremony in 1979. “We knew it wasn’t something that was done but it was something that was important to us,” says Robert. “Our gay friends couldn’t wrap their heads around two men having a ceremony. People in the (LGBT) community were having trouble with it.”
Friends and family also had various reactions. No one from Robert’s family attended their commitment ceremony although, he says, “Michael was accepted as a member of the family.” While Michael’s mother was open to attending, the two had kept the ceremony a secret from Michael’s father. They knew of no way for the mother to be away for so long without arousing suspicion. Michael points out, however, that some of his cousins attended, and one of his maternal aunts gave them a gift. “She accepted the ceremony as a wedding and gave us the same gift she had given to all of her nieces and nephews at their weddings,” he says.
Robert and Michael took another interim step in 2002, becoming the second couple in Westchester County (in New York State) to register as domestic partners. “Domestic partnership was a non-entity,” says Robert, “though we were thrilled it was happening. This was the first step to full marriage equality.” Never-the-less, the couple did not treat their domestic partnership as anything other than a legality and held no ceremony to mark the occasion.
Dealing with the palpable discomfort among friends within the LGBT community after their 1979 commitment ceremony would prove to be a valuable experience. The couple encountered substantial resistance among established LGBT organizations during their early participation in the movement for marriage equality.
Michael remembers the push back in the early years of campaigning for marriage equality. “All of the major organizations were against us. The first inkling that we were getting somewhere was when Massachusetts got it, or maybe when Canada approved marriage. I think that, to us, was one of the turning points,” he says, both for them and the established LGBT organizations.
“I happened to be on a business trip, that Robert had joined me on, and Robert had just gone back home,” says Michael, reflecting back on the day when Canada joined the ranks of marriage equality countries. “I remained in Canada. I called him back and asked if he wanted to get married.”
Then, in 2003, 24 years after their commitment ceremony, Michael and Robert legally married each other in Niagara Falls, Canada, in front of approximately 50 guests. This time, rather than issues pertaining to cultural acceptance, it was geographical distance that kept the event from being even larger. “My cousin who, we thought, would never accept the invitation was the first to accept,” notes Michael. “My mom gave us away.”
Their wedding in Canada added impetus to their quest for full equality at home. The couple, represented by Lambda Legal, intervened on behalf of the Westchester County Executive, who was sued by an outside party for recognizing out-of-state marriages like theirs. The case, Godfrey vs. Spano, would go to New York’s highest court and set the precedent for statewide legal recognition of gay couples married in other jurisdictions.
In addition to their early involvement as litigants, Michael and Robert were among the original founders of Marriage Equality New York, which later would merge with Marriage Equality USA. “I think we were one of only two couples among the early participants, the other being Cathy Marino Thomas and her wife, Sheila,” says Robert. “The rest were all single. There were 10 in the core group.” Although the two have partaken in more than their fair share of rallies, their emphasis has always been on education and engagement. “Education is the key — you have to make people aware of the issues,” says Robert.
Once married, the two quickly realized their work as activists and educators was far from finished. Upon returning from their wedding, the priest at their local Catholic parish ejected them from the choir. “Making people realize you cannot separate the church from this issue,” says Robert, was one of key elements the two considered critical. “LGBT groups backed away from us, characterizing it as a religious issue. But it is not just a religious issue, it is a civil rights issue. LGBT groups experienced in lobbying told us at MENY that we could not ask our legislators what their position was on marriage for same sex couples. It was too controversial.”
In spite of opposition from all sides, Robert says that, from the beginning, “We knew we were going to ask about one question -- marriage. MENY sent out a statewide questionnaire. Most legislators ignored them. Of those who returned them, there were certainly more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s.’” Picking up where his husband left off, Michael adds that, “within a year after Canada, they (LGBT organizations) were starting to embrace the idea. MENY coined the term ‘marriage equality.’”
The couple also lays claim to another milestone in the marriage equality movement, having been instrumental in making the connections to get Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer to Canada for their wedding. Windsor vs. U.S. would become the landmark decision requiring the federal government to recognize marriages performed in marriage equality states. The opinion cited Godfrey vs. Spano, in which Robert and Michael had been lead participants to prove their marriage was recognized in New York State.
Since Windsor, when same gender couples could finally receive all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of marriage afforded by federal law, the couple has contemplated the reality of true marriage equality. Discussing the reality of a potentially larger federal income tax liability because of the marriage penalty, Michael notes, “That is one of the responsibilities of marriage, to pay that marriage penalty. I was happy to pay those taxes because I am now an equal citizen. It comes with the whole enchilada. You want to be treated equally, that’s part of the whole enchilada. That’s what comes with the rights and responsibilities of marriage. You can’t just take the pluses and eliminate the minuses. But you now also have the rights that we have been denied for so long.”
With equal marriage rights having been secured in New York and much of the country, Robert will be stepping down from the MEUSA board. "Each of us owes a huge debt of gratitude to Robert and Michael for their work and personal sacrifice in making both MEUSA and the entire marriage equality movement a success,” says MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. "Their successful lawsuit early in our struggle was critical in bringing recognition for LGBTQ New York families. And Robert's leadership on our Board as we have merged, transitioned and grown in these past few years will be sorely missed."
Kitchen v. Herbert: MEUSA Goes Inside the Tenth Circuit
Last month in Denver, Jolene Mewing attended the Tenth Circuit's oral arguments for Kitchen v. Herbert, the Utah marriage equality case. Jolene gives us her first-person perspective on the hearing from her seat inside the courtroom.
The week leading up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ hearing in the Kitchen v. Herbert case was full of excitement and anxiety. My wife and I attended a send-off rally for the plaintiffs to show the community is behind them and supports everything they have done for all of us.
Once I reached Denver, it was time to head to a rally on the steps of the Byron White United States Courthouse, where the 10th Circuit Court is located. The press was already there in full force garnering details and background information they could work into their stories. The weather was beautiful and perfect.
The rally was held the night prior to the case being heard beyond the doors to this illustrious building. The rally was put on by Why Marriage Matters Colorado. The energy level was high as a DJ cranked out music that was positive and charged. Guest speakers empowered the crowd, which started to grow in numbers.
Thursday morning (10 April 2014) I arrived at the courthouse early to ensure a place inside the actual courtroom. There was an overflow room, too; however, I had been handed number 42, which guaranteed a place inside the courtroom where history would be made.
The three judges presiding over the case, Carlos Lucero, Jerome Holmes, and Paul Kelly, loomed powerful over the courtroom. Their many years of experience was etched on each of their faces. I looked at them thinking the fate of marriage equality in Utah rests in their hands. I was nervous. The plaintiffs were sitting on a bench behind their attorneys; I could only wonder what they were feeling inside.
Peggy Tomsic commanded the room for the plaintiffs while Gene Schaerr represented the State of Utah. Both were to speak for 30 minutes each but were allotted more time due to interruptions by the judges throughout their statements.
Besides the extreme injustice of the case itself, what makes this case even more intolerable is the fact our family’s state income tax dollars are being used to pay for this case—our very own money is being used to fight against our right for marriage equality. That sickens me inside.
Once started, the courtroom was quiet except for those asking and answering the questions. Many times the judges spoke over the attorneys, cutting them off in mid-sentence. A few times, there was a little laughter, soon followed by the stark seriousness of the morning’s circumstance.
I sat in silence as I watched history happening in front of me. I was here to support the plaintiffs and to be part of something bigger than I could ever imagine. When I left the courtroom, my emotions were all over the place. The murmurs started as people were speculating which way the court would lean. In my heart, I know the judges will make the right decision. I also know that whatever way the 10th Circuit Court rules, there will be an appeal, which means more of our taxpayer dollars will be used to fight against the marriage of me to my wife.
I always felt I’d see marriage equality in my lifetime—I just didn’t think it would happen this quickly or that Utah would play such a pivotal role in marriage equality for all the states. After attending the hearing in Denver, I know marriage equality is closer than it’s ever been. I also know we are on the right side of history as we watch it unfold before us.
By Jolene Mewing, Local Organizer, Utah Regional Operating Committee, Marriage Equality USA.
As we celebrated LGBT couples getting married in Arkansas last weekend, we were packing our bags to head to my 30th college class reunion—attending together as a legally married couple. Like birthdays and anniversaries, reunions are occasions that mark the passage of time, and this one also serves as an important milestone along the road to marriage equality.
Five years ago, we were legally married in California, but we had seen marriage equality come and go as Prop 8 put a stop to the over 18,000 weddings of 2008. As we were planning whether we could attend my 25th college reunion, we needed to consult the court calendar—the California Supreme Court was about to rule on whether Prop 8 violated the state constitution in May of 2009. As it turned out, the court upheld Prop 8 right before the reunion, and I felt like I was heading to see my classmates with a heavy heart.
How wonderful it was to find that my classmates did not see this as discouraging news, but rather expressed their love, support and amazement at how far we’d come in so short a period of time. When I was in college in the 1980s, the idea of marriage equality was a distant dream, barely detectable on the radar. At the National March on Washington for LGBT Rights in 1987, the year John and I met, a symbolic wedding ceremony was held for hundreds of same-sex couples who wished to celebrate together. But, at the time, it felt more urgent to protest the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bowers v. Hardwick that upheld the constitutionality of laws that criminalized the physical expression of our love.
My freshman year boyfriend was a young architecture student, who would stay up late at night designing neighboring houses for us to live in discreetly, with a hidden passage connecting our two houses underground. It was a romantic image, but also a graphic rendering of the love that dare not speak its name.
Today, as I return to campus with my lawfully wedded spouse, I look forward to seeing a close friend who has been legally married in Massachusetts for ten years (bringing their two kids) and my junior year boyfriend who is now legally married in Connecticut. Another classmate will arrive with his newborn in tow as a newlywed after marrying his husband in New York the weekend before. And, who knows? We may find out that one of our classmates was among the first couples to have married in states as diverse as Arkansas, Michigan and Utah—or is waiting to wed in the many other states with lawsuits, one of which may well bring us marriage equality nationwide.
Even five years ago it would have been hard to believe we’d have come this far so fast. With our community working together to continue the momentum for full LGBT equality, we are hopeful that when we go to my 35th reunion, we will have nationwide marriage equality and so much more.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney
This article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, May 15, 2014: http://sfbaytimes.com/reuninted/
GETTING TO “I DO”: Our Journeys to Marriage Equality
SHARE YOUR STORY TO CHANGE HEARTS & MINDS AROUND THE WORLD Waited years/decades to marry? Raising a family without access to the benefits and protections marriage offers? Straight but no longer narrow? MEUSA has launched its latest marriage equality story-sharing initiative in conjunction with the story-telling website Cowbird. Designed to collect and share multimedia-rich personal stories about relationships, family, marriage, advocacy, and equality in an online gallery, contributors will have an opportunity to share their personal marriage equality-related stories. “Sharing stories is one of the most powerful ways to sway more people into supporting marriage equality,” says MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. “We encourage potential participants to relay their dreams, ideals, and experiences with families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and communities.”
One of the first stories to post was that of Ted Hayes and Jack Hayes. After 25 years together, Jack died shortly before marriage equality became a reality in New York. The post has been picked up by Upworthy and has been viewed over 32,000 times as well as receiving many “shares” and “likes” on multiple sites. The following guidelines outline the types of stories MEUSA hopes to gather:
- Personal journeys of same-sex couples and their relationships, children, and hopes and dreams for marriage
- Stories of our families, friends, neighbors, and communities as they’ve come to embrace and work towards marriage equality
- Stories of people who once opposed marriage equality but subsequently moved to a position of support
- Experiences as volunteers and advocates working towards marriage equality
It's easy to be part of Getting to ‘I Do’ and share your own story. Click on the image below or visit cowbird.com/join to create your free Cowbird account. Please write "Marriage Equality USA" in the You section when you sign up.
After you’ve created your account and logged in, please add your personal marriage equality story:
- Click the Tell a story link at the top right of the Cowbird home page
- Upload a photo, add audio and/or text
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Guest Post: New Federal Benefits For Same Sex Married Couples
US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the US government will now recognize same sex marriages as equal to heterosexual marriages in all federal matters. That means they will be treated just the same in bankruptcy court proceedings, visitation privileges for inmates of federal prisons and in federal survivor benefits.
Note: I am not an attorney or a qualified tax expert. No action should be taken based solely on the content of these memos. However I hope the memos will help you ask the right questions of people who are qualified in these issues.
Same sex married couples will now be able to jointly file for bankruptcy. This ensures alimony and domestic support debts aren't discharged in bankruptcy cases. And, if they do file for bankruptcy and were married in a state which allows same sex marriage, such as California, their bankruptcy will be valid all across the nation, even in states that do not recognize same sex marriage.
Also, from now on, people in same sex marriages will have to right to refuse to testify against their spouses in civil and criminal cases heard in federal court, even when the court proceedings occur in states that do not recognize same sex marriage. And the same sex spouses of all law enforcement officers and firefighters will be entitled to benefits in the event of death or severe injury in the line of duty.
Federal prison inmates, who are married to people of the same sex, will have the same rights as inmates who are in heterosexual marriages. For example, their spouses will be allowed to visit them in prison, federal prisoners will be allowed to take escorted trips to attend the funerals of their spouses or to deal with crises being faced by their spouses, to engage in correspondence with their spouses, and to obtain compassionate release, or reduction of their sentence, to care for a disabled spouse who is not in prison.
The Attorney General’s order also covers some lesser known programs such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Program . During the cold war era with the Soviet Union, the United the United States carried out numerous atomic bomb tests. In order to do these tests people mined uranium and others processed that uranium to prepare it for use in that program. Some of them got sick and died from exposure to the uranium.
Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to provide monetary compensation to those who got sick from the radiation. The act also provides compensation to the spouses of people who died from that radiation. Now those spousal benefits will be available to the same sex spouses of those who died.
Attorney General Holder also stated that same sex spouses would be eligible for spousal compensation from the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
It is important to note that the US Attorney General has little or no authority over state courts and programs. It is possible, for example, that a state court in Georgia might compel the same sex spouse of a defendant to testify against his or her spouse in state court, even if they married in a state where same sex marriages are recognized.
None-the-less, Attorney General Holder’s announcement is another major step in the march to full and equal rights for LGBT people.
Authored by Boyce Hinman, founder and director of the California Communities United Institute, and member of Marriage Equality USA. Hinman has been writing and posting a series, "Monday Morning Marriage Memo," as part of his Anatomy for Justice blog. This article was first published there, and is republished here with the author’s permission. Hinman resides in and serves California, therefore the posts sometimes have a California slant. NOTE: Marriage Equality USA is not a legal firm or a tax/accounting firm. No action should be taken based solely on the content of our news blog or website.