It’s always beneficial, when you’re watching the news about what’s been happening in Washington with gay marriage, to break it down to smaller units so that we can actually KNOW what we are for and against. Many times, the facts get blurred as we watch our favorite news anchor tell the latest reports because we ourselves are not educated on the issue.
First of all, DOMA stands for the “Defense of Marriage Act” – and it’s not as friendly as it sounds. You’ve heard it on CNN and Fox News as the hottest topic in Washington. It’s all due to the appellate case United States vs. Windsor. Here’s some background information to put in your brains.
DOMA is a law that was enacted in 1996 by Bill Clinton (who now is pushing for it’s repeal). Though the law is rather complex, the real meat lies in Sections 2 & 3.
In Section 2, states are allowed to refuse recognized valid civil marriages of same sex couples – that one is obvious.
Here’s where it gets dirty…
In Section 3, it states that same sex couples cannot file their taxes jointly, cannot take unpaid leave from work to visit their sick partner, cannot receive spousal, mother/father, or surviving spouse benefits under Social Security, and cannot receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees.
Now, since 1996 this has been the law of the land. When the 21st century came around, the terms “civil unions” became a part of our lives. Civil unions provide nearly all the benefits, honors, and privileges that marriage does – but only in the state. It’s because of DOMA that it is not recognized on a FEDERAL level, which means that everything in Section 3 will STILL affect them.
While all this was happening, an amazing couple named Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were living in New York state – if you get a chance to watch their documentary called Edith and Thea: A Very Long Engagement, you will not regret it. They were together for forty years, married in Canada, and never stopped loving each other, even when Spyer became ill and handicapped the last ten years of their relationship.
When Spyer died, it was around the time that New York state legally recognized same sex marriages performed in OTHER jurisdictions, through the Marriage Equality Act – something that other states didn’t have. Despite that fact, Windsor was required to pay over $360,000 in federal estate taxes on Spyer’s estate – something that wouldn’t have happened had they been the opposite sex, since the federal law (DOMA) doesn’t hold them at the same status as opposite-sex couples recognized by their state.
So what did Spyer do? She appealed it, sending it all the way to The United States Supreme Court – who heard oral arguments from both sides on March 27, 2013. This was a crucial day because it could have resulted in the repealing of DOMA, something that RFMA has been trying to do since 2009.
RFMA is the “Respect For Marriage Act” – it was proposed in 2009, and backed by US Representative Bob Barr and (surprise, surprise!) President Bill Clinton.
RFMA repeals DOMA and restores the rights and benefits to couples, even if they travel out of state. However, it doesn’t FORCE states to recognize gay marriages and still looks to the government to equally apply its policy of looking to the states to decide whether they should recognize them.
Basically, it gives states the choice to recognize same sex marriage if they want too. If they DO recognize it and a couple is married in that state, it is valid. Then they will be under the full support of the federal government to claim their benefits, because DOMA would no longer exist.
Our entire history has been a battle. Battling for equality, battling for understanding, and battling for acceptance. Laws shouldn’t have power over our lives in this way – pay attention to what is happening. Let’s educate ourselves every day – it is only then that we can have the power to change our future.
Currently, United States vs. Windsor is still pending – who knows what will happen, but whatever the outcome may be, it is still a reminder that we are somehow seen “differently”. I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be viewed as anything but who I am.