Many of us learn in school about landmark Supreme Court decisions like Marbury v. Madison (1803), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), or Miranda v. Arizona (1966). Well, today we can add United States v. Windsor (2013) to that list, which found that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.
Think about it — the battle for equal rights for Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender individuals (LGBT) in the U.S. began substantial inroads in the 1970s. A notable figure was Harvey Milk — the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States (n.b., Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly homosexual elected to public office 3 years earlier, but patriarchy knows no limits). Eleven months later Milk was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone in front of City Hall by the prior San Francisco Supervisor Dan White…who was only found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder thanks to the now infamous “Twinkie Defense“. White only served 5 years of a 7 year sentence, and committed suicide 2 years later upon his release.
Over the next 20 years, millions of Americans would come out publicly including notable figures Barney Frank (first U.S. congressman to come out as gay), Rachael Maddow (first openly gay or lesbian American to win an international Rhodes scholarship), and Ellen Degeneres (first openly lesbian actress to play an openly lesbian character on television).
But the 1990s also saw legislation that stripped many citizens of any hope of federal rights and recognition. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, which explicitly defined marriage in federal law as a union of one man and one woman. Of note was Section 3, which codified the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors’ benefits, immigration, and the filing of joint tax returns.
DOMA wouldn’t be challenged in federal court until 2010. Since, there have been five different requests by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeals. Today — 17 years later — in a 5:4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court found Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional.
While Section 2 of DOMA remains intact — which reserves powers to the state in how they decide to recognize marriages in other states — the landscape has changed measurably. As of June 2013, twelve states have legalized same-sex marriage — Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington as well as the District of Columbia and five Native American tribes. At the same time, seven states – Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming — prohibit same-sex marriage by statute and 30 prohibit it in their constitutions.
We all know what that means next for America — CPAs are going to busy amending tax filings.
Seriously, this decision is a pretty big deal. It has been many years in the making, citizens have been killed in defending their fight for equality, and the wonderful checks and balances of the 3rd branch of the the US Government has ruled the legislation of the Legislative and Executive branches of government as unconstitutional.
This decision is a very big deal for some of my closest friends. Many are in some of the most inspiring, committed relationships. Several already are raising kids together; others are in the process of starting families. Yesterday, they were at risk of not receiving the same rights as other families. Today, many of them are that much closer on the road towards equality.
Our federal government will now recognize that witholding rights from these loving, committed families is no longer something our society wishes to do; that if a single state decides marriage in their jurisdiction is between a consenting human and a consenting human, that the federal government will recognize and ensure the rights conferred to them, as it has with the millions of families before them.
No longer is it simply in Defense of Marriage. Today it is in Defense of Family.