Monday, November 22, 2010

Marriage Injustice

Many folks don't understand what the big deal is with marriage equality. You have love and nothing else matters, right? Marriage is just a piece of paper. Right?

Wrong. When it comes to protecting your family, those more than 1,000 rights that heterosexuals get for getting that piece of paper matter a lot.

The Washington Post had a nice piece in the editorial section today talking about some of those inequalities that matter and some lawsuits that are trying to address them. Like these couples, if I died, my wife could not inherit my pension. And if I died, she would have to pay inheritance taxes for "inheriting" our home.

Marriage Injustice

EDITH "EDIE" WINDSOR and Thea Spyer were together for 44 years and legally married since 2007. They lived in New York, which recognizes same-sex marriage. But none of that mattered when Ms. Spyer died at 77 in 2009 after a decades-long struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Ms. Windsor, now 81, was treated like a stranger to Ms. Spyer because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman. She was forced to pay $350,000 in federal inheritance taxes.

Gerald V. Passaro II and Thomas M. Buckholz had been a couple for 13 years when they were married in 2008 in Connecticut, which legally blesses such relationships. Mr. Buckholz had worked for 20 years for Bayer Corp., which extends certain benefits to domestic partners; he was also vested in the company's pension plan. But when he died in 2009, Mr. Passaro was denied benefits for surviving spouses. Because federal law governs the pension plan, DOMA applies.

This month, Ms. Windsor filed a lawsuit in New York challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. Mr. Passaro is one of the plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit in Connecticut. Their experiences demonstrate the injustice of this law.

DOMA was created for the purposes of "defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage," "defending traditional notions of morality" and "protecting state sovereignty and democratic self-governance" - dubious goals, at best.

How does the denigration of committed same-sex relationships strengthen opposite-sex unions? How could it be moral to pile hardship upon grief by forcing surviving spouses to deal with financial strains others are shielded from? How is federalism bolstered when states are prevented from applying policy and legal preferences in defining marriage, long considered the states' domain?

This year, a Massachusetts judge ruled that DOMA violated the equal-protection rights of same-sex married couples. Ms. Windsor and Mr. Passaro offer convincing arguments for why the jurists overseeing their respective cases should reach the same result.

Plaintiffs nationwide will probably try to chip away at DOMA's indefensible foundations. And the Supreme Court may yet have a chance to weigh in. But justice would best and most gratifyingly be served if Congress simply repealed the law, once and for all.

1 comment:

Destinaish Unknown said...

I agree with the story, and that it sucks for us. However, there are legal ways to accomplish the ends they were seeking...for instance, same-sex spouses can adopt one or the other to avoid estate taxation (this can happen at any age) and ensure intended inheritances. I have to wonder why the same-sex couple in the pension example did not name the spouse as the direct pay on death beneficiary of the pension? That seems strange... I'm actually a little surprised that it's not mentionted to hire a qualified LGBT attorney to accomplish the financial planning goals you'd seek to achieve to circumvent DOMA. It sucks, but with a carefully drafted estate plan including a full set of legal documents/options, it IS possible! And that's my positive spin on it.