While Last Wednesday’s decisions by the US Supreme Court were a historical victory for the fairness and the rights of gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer Americans. The reality is that it doesn’t have a huge direct impact on as many people as some anticipated. The decision to refuse to decide the Prop 8 case affects only Californians and won’t impact PA couples at all. The DOMA case had actually less potential to impact PA couples- and as I predicted before the announcements, it has no impact of PA couples at all in practical terms.
The DOMA ruling has the greatest direct impact on those couples who live in the 13 states which allow same-sex marriage. These couples now have full Federal and State recognition of their relationships.
For PA couples the bottom line is no clearer than before the decision, and a lot more complex. Conceivably, a PA couple legally married in anther state, could now file a joint Federal income tax return. But there are parts of the state tax return that uses portions from the Fed return. Will the State which doesn’t recognize the marriage accept the portion from the joint Fed return? Not likely. For other Federal programs, the criteria is not uniform. Some programs use location-based criteria, so the fact that PA doesn’t recognize the marriage will still interfere with the couple’s ability to take advantage of any legal change brought by the ruling.
The DOMA ruling remains extremely important however, even if the direct impact on currently married couples is complicated. I fact, it is these decisions which insure that same-sex marriage can not be undone and will eventually be uniform across the entire country. That’s why the Religious Right and the other homo haters are so bent out of shape. They are now limited to trying to slow the acceptance of same-sex marriage, but they can ever stop it entirely. There wasn’t much chance before that they could stop it, but whatever chance existed has not totally evaporated. The only other avenue they have, is a Federal Constitution Ban on same-sex marriage which could never pass.
In addition, these two rulings together propel the marriage battle forward because there will be court cases borne from the complications these decisions raise. Proponents of Marriage Equality expected judicial decisions to be a primary component of the final win, and these decisions solidify that. Consider what has just happened in Michigan, where a judge, citing the recent Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling, is allowing a lesbian couple to sue the state over marriage rights. Could the same happen here in Pennsylvania? Eventually it will.
The DOMA ruling impacts the LGBTQ Community across the state in other ways as well. As a state without even basic nondiscrimination protections, the right to marry may not really be such a good thing. Imagine going into work after you have been legally married, only to be fired because you are gay. Marriage has a public component as the marriage license is a publicly announced document. As different locales across the state either provide nondiscrimination or they do not, marriage will be more accessible to some than to others. In every state that now has same-sex marriage, basic nondiscrimination was already present state-wide.
The recent Supreme Court decisions therefore, create an opportunity for mobilization of the LGBTQ and allied supporting communities across the state to pass nondiscrimination. As the complexities of the legal issues faced by individuals as well as couples becomes more clear, the larger community’s awareness of the need for these rights grows exponentially. Will the community rally motivated by these recent wins and utilize that energy here in the state? I think it will.
Without a doubt, the family built upon a marriage is a model that most every straight person can understand. Even conservatives who are opposed to nondiscrimination protections as it is opposite of libertarian values, can grasp how dire it can be for a couple when one member is fired or denied a job; or when a new couple is refused housing. Indeed, the fight for Equal Rights is an intellectual effort of what things should or shouldn’t be. But talking about how real lives of individuals and couples are impacted, becomes a real way for anyone to grasp the down-to-earth ramifications of those ideas. Equality may be a tough concept for many to fight for, but believing that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness- that isn’t a concept at all. That’s something everyone can understand.
The DOMA ruling is actually far more broad than it may appear at first. There are two basis by which the Court could find DOMA unconstitutional, and interestingly, the Justices list both as their justification for finding DOMA section 3 unconstitutional. This deserves a blog post of its own, so I’ll write more about it later.
The last way the DOMA ruling will impact Pennsylvania couples may seem like the strangest, but in the long run it will be a benefit to those who believe in fairness for all couples. It probably isn’t news to anyone that there are some extreme anti-gay legislators and anti-gay opponents in our Keystone State. The DOMA ruling is so significant, that these groups will jump into offensive mode to do whatever they can desperately to try and slow any progress for the LGBTQ community. Their efforts and attacks will grow in voracity, intensity and extremism. As hurtful as this seems to some, it is a good thing, because the image of “what is fair” only becomes clearer as the hate-mongering and attacks grow. Pennsylvania is conservative, but many of the individuals across the state are more swayed by truth and fairness than by outrageous rhetoric and hateful lies and misinformation. In the most recent states to pass same-sex marriage, the use of real stories and truthful information paved the way to growing community support. The same will happen here in Pennsylvania.