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Initial Thoughts about the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decisions.

A fellow activist/advocate joked with me earlier in the week, that I’m just a part-time homosexual since I do activism and advocacy work while also maintaining a full-time “regular” job. Today, was an example about how rough being a part-timer can be. Here I was, with a student employee, an intern, and a contract employee, in my office at 10 AM this morning, and all I wanted to do was follow the Supreme Court’s announcements via the SCOTUSblog! Somehow, it worked out, and I caught most of the live blogging; got links to the DOMA decision and the Prop 8 decision; and was able to keep an eye on the dialogue that followed all day. I even accomplished enough that my boss can’t be angry with me either.

Right now, I want to post some base thoughts, and over the next few weeks or so I’ll be posting more detailed commentary as well as resources for my readers.

This morning I published a post entitled, “A SCOTUS Decision that Won’t Affect you,” and if I do say so myself, I got it pretty right. At least as far as same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, today’s decisions won’t have any real impact. Nothing has really changed legally. PA couples have as many rights- or can access as many rights as they could before the decision. For couples in states that have legal same-sex marriage, and for California, the situation is utterly different. In those states, same-sex couples have access to a wide array of rights, privileges and responsibilities that were not available to them before the decision.

Some LGBTQ activists had hoped for much farther reaching decisions in both the Prop 8 case as well as DOMA than what the Justice’s handed down, although the decisions were aligned with what most of us were expecting. It was a huge win for same-sex couples and the LGBTQ community as a whole, even if the decisions weren’t as far reaching as some wanted. Today marks, not an end to a journey, but a new phase of our struggle for Full Equality, and we enter it well equipped to keep making major progress.

There has been a slew of misinformation out there all day, and there are at least two points I want to make here right now.

1) Prop 8 decision. Contrary to what the HRC has been saying in their raising money emails, the High Court did not strike down Prop 8. The Supreme Court made no ruling on the validity of Prop 8 at all. Rather, they found that the proponents who had brought Prop 8 to the Courts above the State Supreme Court level, did not have standing. This group did not have the right or the legal ability to bring the case, and so the Supreme Court sent Prop 8 back down to a lower court for handling. It is anticipated that the lower court will decline the proponent’s appeal, and it appears the State of California is already preparing to be able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the Ninth Circuit’s say is lifted.

The distinction here is important even if in practical terms the result is the same, and I’ll write more about this in a later post.

2) The High Court struck down only one part of DOMA and not the whole of DOMA. The Justices decided that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, and so it has been struck down, but the rest of DOMA remains. What this means in practical terms is more complicated, and possibly unknown right now. Many folks will be weighing in on this over time as the decisions are analyzed.

These points do not lessen the significance and historical importance of today however. But, as questions and complications arise because of today’s decisions, the distinctions will be important to remember.

The DOMA issue is especially important because this is where the impact or lack of it on Pennsylvania couples comes into focus. The Pennsylvania Progressive incorrectly suggests that the DOMA decision means same-sex couples in PA can not be denied a marriage license. Nope. Doesn’t mean that at all!

So, as you listen to the News, read blogs and other resources, keep an open mind. As people have a chance to really read in depth the decisions, everyone will be able to articulate what these decisions do and do not mean more correctly.

One point is extremely clear already. The decisions will set up other cases going to the Courts, and conceivably making it to the Supreme Court again. That body of Justices will again have opportunities to specify more concretely parts of the bigger issue as their recent ruling impacts practical lives resulting in future lawsuits.

Another point is also clear. The people of this Country remain in charge of this Civil Rights issue. People will forge the path this struggle takes from here with actives, advocacy and hard work. Legislatures will continue to play a role and Courts too will examine detailed and complex questions that the legislation generates.

Even with a narrower victory today, the LGBTQ Community scored a huge win. A monumental win that will go down in history, and be the start of more monumental decisions to come.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: | thomascwaters.com

  2. Bolton, answers for questions like this don’t yet really exist. The Court’s role was merely to opinion on the constitutionality of lower court decisions. Those efforts, discerning constitutionality or not in no way creates a practical plan to move forward. GOOD legislation does that, and bad legislation creates an opportunity for a mess when the Court strikes it down.

    Income tax- From what I’ve seen, yes, the two of you may be able to jointly file the Fed return, and have the Fed accept it. The problem may come up re: the State return which uses numbers off of the Fed return since the State doesn’t accept your marriage, your Fed return may not create numbers that the State sees as valid.

    Social Security- Different Fed agencies use different standards to determine benefits. Some use location -based criteria, ad others do not. I don’t know what the SSA uses.

    As for any significant financial matter, it is best to consult a lawyer. EVERYONE- lawyers included will be sifting through the decisions and trying to sort out what the practical ramifications are. And they are likely to be complicated and messy for those couples who live in states which do not accept their marriage as valid.

  3. BoltonWinpenny says:

    OK, Thomas, I’m extremely surprised that I can’t find an answer to this question: If I die today, will Jamie (my spouse as per my Massachusetts marriage license) get my federal social security? My frame of mind suggests that he will. I think the feds recognize a marriage license from one state even if you live in another. This is extremely important to me. I will move to a same sex state if this is not true. And not quite so important, can Jamie and I file jointly for 2013? Can we re-do our taxes for 2012 since we were married in 2012 — this will have a significant impact on my tax return.

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