Women continue to make history and lead from Julia Pearson, the first woman appointed by President Obama to ever lead the Secret Service, the first woman to head the national clandestine service unit of the CIA to Edie Windsor, the 83 year old woman whose case is leading the Supreme Court and the country to marriage equality. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard the case of Edie Windsor who filed a lawsuit alleging the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional as it denied her federal estate tax benefits when her spouse died.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) defines marriage as between one man and one wife. In doing so, it makes clear that only heterosexual couples can receive federal benefits whether tax benefits, social security or military benefits. In all, there may be about 1000 federal benefits denied to same sex couples over their heterosexual married friends. Edie was not able to receive the estate tax benefits afforded marriage couples under DOMA. She sued and on Wednesday, her case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. And Edie was electrifying as she walked down the 44 steps of the Supreme Court following the argument to make a statement. Ironically, that’s the length of her relationship with Thea Spyer. She said it went well and spoke of how humbled she felt to bring the case.
Real stories of real people’s lives are affected by the injustice and unfairness of the federal law which denies federal benefits to same sex couples. Nine states allow same sex marriage. And those couples who are legally married in those nine states cannot by law receive any federal benefits which stem from being married.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan paraphrased and stated that the purpose of DOMA was to morally defend the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. In 1996 Congress decided to express its moral disapproval of same sex marriage. In doing so, DOMA creates a cast system where marriage between heterosexual receive all the federal benefits of being married and same sex couples receive none. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg likened it to whole milk marriage versus skim milk. She said there is the full marriage and then there’s this skim milk marriage.
Edie Windsor was in a 40 year relationship with her spouse whom she married in 2007. In 2008, she passed and Edie learned about the injustice in the law when she was hit with over a $300,000 estate tax bill which would not have existed if she were allowed to receive estate tax benefits due married couples.
The opposition to Edie’s case and in support of DOMA are those who support the biblical reading that God made a marriage union between a man and a woman. With all due respect to the religious and conservative proponents of DOMA, this case is about affording equal benefits under the law. And it’s ironic to see that people of color who were and are still legally discriminated in some instances support a law that discriminates. A Maryland pastor Bishop Harry Jackson has been outspoken against equal rights for gays in marriage in all the cases.
The time to accept marriage equality is now. And over 50% of Americana accept marriage equality. It is not only morally right but legally fair and just. As a society, we can no longer have a two tier marriage system. The time is right, the time is now. And hopefully, the Supreme Court of the U.S. will do the right thing.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule by June. And judging by the accounts, it appears that there may be enough justices to vote to do the right thing.