Mary Bonauto Wins MacArthur Genius Award

GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto addresses the crowd at the March 10, 2004, MassEquality candlelight vigil. Rep. Byron Rushing, a longtime supporter of the gay community and a leader on the same-sex marriage issue, is standing next to her.

GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto addresses the crowd at the March 10, 2004, MassEquality candlelight vigil. Rep. Byron Rushing is standing next to her.

Mary Bonauto, the lawyer who brought same-sex marriage to Massachusetts–and has been the legal strategist who laid the groundwork for victories at the state and federal level–was among those who won this year’s MacArthur genius awards. This is a well-deserved triumph for the greatest civil rights leader of the LGBT movement. Congratulations, Mary Bonauto, and GLAD!

Salem Authors Chronicled Marriage Equality Struggle

On the tenth anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts, Tom Dalton of the Salem News interviewed Patricia Gozemba about Courting Equality:

SALEM — Marriage was on the minds of Patricia Gozemba and Karen Kahn when they set out nearly a decade ago to write their book: “Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages.”

Marriage was on their minds — just not their own marriage.

The two longtime feminists and activists, who had been together since 1990, began working on the book in the summer of 2005, or about a year after the historic first marriage in Cambridge City Hall.

A few months into the project, however, they decided to get hitched. And they decided to hold the ceremony in Cambridge.

Watching history unfold before their eyes helped them realize what an important right marriage is.

“We’re both kind of old-time feminists …” said Gozemba, 74, a retired Salem State professor and local environmental activist. “But the both of us realized all the kinds of social and even societal benefits there were to being married in terms of legal protections, economic protections and all the rest.”

Although she says there is still a long way to go to achieve equality for the lesbian,gay, bisexual and transgender community, Gozemba credits the current occupant of the White House with advancing the rights of same-sex couples.

“The Obama Administration has been tremendously helpful in assuring more equality … and allowing us to file taxes together. And new Social Security benefits are coming down where surviving spouses can get the Social Security (benefits) of their spouses.”

Looking back a decade, the two Salem women are proud to have been part of history as activists, authors and a same-sex married couple.

“We’re very excited about this 10th anniversary,” said Gozemba. “Massachusetts certainly showed the way.”

Hawaii Becomes 15th State to Embrace Marriage Equality

On Tuesday, November 13, Hawaii’s State Senate put its final approval on the marriage equality bill. The Senate passed the bill 19-4, and it awaits the Governor’s signature, expected today.

In the many days of debate in the Hawaii House, I was particularly moved by House Member, Representative Kaniela Ing:

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of Senate Bill 1, relating to equal rights.

 Thank you, a couple days ago I spoke to young mainstream Christians, today I have a broader message.  In 1998, my parents voted on a constitutional amendment to “reserve marriage between one woman and one man.”

 I remember commercials: vote “yes” for “traditional marriage,” our family liked that one, and vote “no” on the constitutional amendment, that one was bad.

 You see, like most 9 year olds, morality was a very black and white concept–there’s right, and then there’s wrong.  I carried a due north/ due south moral compass oriented primarily on what my incredibly loving parents, hi mom, taught me.  And they along with my church taught me gay was bad.

 But in October 1998, a few weeks before that vote, something happened that shook and recalibrated my young conscience.  Matthew Shepard, a gay teenager going to college in Wyoming, was inhumanely tortured and murdered by straight classmates–a hate crime that made national news.  He was tied to a fence, and beat with a pistol and left to bleed to death.

 I remember discussing this with a friend of mine from church, and my friend said, “Good for him, God says he is evil.”  But I knew, in my young heart, that no one deserved that kind of brutality, no one.  This is where my convictions began.

 You see, if we want to understand the gay rights issue, we need to understand the LGBT experience.

 Many of us just can’t grasp what it would be like.  Until college, like many of the testifiers here, I thought being gay was a lifestyle choice that went against nature.  But when you actually hear from the LGBT community, as we have witnessed, it is clearly not a choice.

 In fact, many gay people who testified last week, proclaimed that as teenagers, they fought who they are, and tried to force themselves straight.  Many faced self-loathing and torment because of this, and thank God that unlike the thousands of gay teenagers that take their own lives every year, these brave people persevered, and they were able to be here today– in front of an less-than-friendly crowd–to stand up like champions for equal rights for all.

 For those opponents who say this isn’t about civil rights, I challenge you to tell that with a clear conscience to Alan Spector, who had the love of his life deported back to South America because his post-doctoral research funding expired.

 I challenge you to tell that to Kimberly Allen, who was not allowed to see her life-partner in the hospital during the last hours of her life,

 I challenge you to tell that Tambry Young who had to reconsider adoption and delay forming the family she desires because of the costs without the rights and benefits of marriage

 …tell that to Bart Zobel, a soldier fighting for his freedom who was called a flaming homo mistake by a rank-and-file superior,

 …tell that to Jeremy White who slipped into depression trying to force or pray himself straight…

 …I challenge you to tell the parents of Matthew Shepard, that the suffering and tragic death that their own son that they experienced is not sufficient to call this is civil rights issue.

 Tell these people hold on until the majority is ready. Tell them they must continue to suffer inequality and hate, because other people are not ready to grant them full equality.  Can you do that with a clear conscience?

 Some testifiers have spoken about this bill ushering in an onslaught of the gay lifestyle.  And they challenged your committee members, Mr. Speaker, would you wish homosexuality upon your own kids?

 So I really thought about this.

 …If the gay lifestyle they speak of pertains to the highly successful physicians, attorneys, economists, the world renowned microbiologists and psychologists that we’ve seen testify.

 …If this gay lifestyle is the inspiringly committed couples who have been together for decades, yet are still viewed as strangers in the eyes of their government.

 …If this gay lifestyle is boldly standing up in the face of hate to fight for equal rights for all

 …If that’s what the gay agenda will bring…If that’s how gay children will be like.  Then hey, sign me up.  I’ll take three.

 And please don’t write scripts for your kids to tell me children need a mother and a father in order to be raised right—when my father passed away when I was a young child, and just like our junior U.S. Senator, and just like our Hawaii-born president of the united states, I come from a single parent home.  Don’t tell me that I, and my brothers and sisters who are exceling in sports, academics, and art—that we are any lesser than your child.

 Especially in Hawaii, where hanai adoption is enshrined in tradition, where multi-generation families are valued as much as our kupuna are, and where diversity is the hallmark of our aloha spirit.   We need to embrace empirical evidence stating that the nuclear family is no better off than other familial structures.  Our children need to continue to learn that in Hawaii, we’re all equals, no matter your sexual orientation, and no matter how your family is structured.

 You see, I live in Kihei, with one of the largest gay populations in the State and with a majority of my constituents in support, but for my colleagues who have the majority in their districts in opposition, let me leave you with this.

 In high school, my friends just like most kids in high school, we used gay as an insult, or as the great Philosopher Mackelmore said, “As synonymous with the lesser.” We hurled it at each other to make fun of each other, one day a gay classmate of mine was walking to band class, he tripped and he dropped a glass jar that was full of colorful paper stars, my friends started laughing at him. I felt bad, so I went over there and helped him, and that didn’t make me very cool, as a matter of fact every time we walked by that guy later on, my friends would say “hey there goes your boyfriend.” But, I did it not because it was the popular thing to do, but because it was the right thing to do. Standing up for this individual did not make me popular, but it was the right thing to do.

 Just because the numerical majority is in one place, it does not mean they are in the right place.  We are in a position right now, that we must lead our state to the right place.  Sometimes the right thing to do, goes against the popular thing to do.

 While I cannot take back my parents 1998 vote back, the people placed me in a position where I can help correct an injustice here in Hawaii. And I am prepared to face the consequences of my vote. To me this bill is about love and acceptance, in Hawaii we call that Aloha. One person in the audience stated that it’s the wrong love, I don’t agree, again I agree with Macklemore, “It’s the same love.” I have one last question, how many more gay people must God create until we realize that he wants them here? How many more gay people must God create until we realize that he wants them here?

 Mr Speaker, let the people decide…who they marry

Hawaii Close to Final Vote on Marriage Equality

After days of testimony, the Hawaii House of Representatives, late last night,  passed a same-sex marriage bill, 30 to 19. The bill goes back to the Senate next Tuesday and then on to the Governor for  his signature. Today’s New York Times published a great overview of Hawaii’s historic relationship to the struggle for marriage equality.

HONOLULU — When, as most everyone expects, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signs into law same-sex marriage here in the coming days, it may almost seem like a routine event. Hawaii is poised to be among 16 states to approve gay marriage, along with Illinois and shortly after Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

But the step in Hawaii has special resonance because the contemporary battle over same-sex marriage was born here two decades ago. Such marriages existed nowhere when Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, along with two other couples, filed what seemed like an utterly quixotic lawsuit seeking a marriage license. To near universal shock, Hawaii’s Supreme Court granted them a victory in 1993, ruling that a refusal to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry was discriminatory and illegal. Read more.

Equal, But What About the 48%?

42% of US citizens have relationship equality but what about the other 48%? Marriage Equality lays out the map.

Marriage Equality Gets the Seven Year Itch

by Karen Kahn

Is marriage equality subject to the seven-year itch? Are we losing interest in it? From all the evidence, it looks to me that, in Massachusetts at least, our commitment to marriage equality remains strong. In fact, in our home state, marriage of same-sex couples has become so ordinary that when you hear that someone is about to tie the knot, you can make no assumptions about the gender of the bride/groom to be.

About the only conflict there seems to be around same-sex couples marrying in Massachusetts is what to call your same-sex spouse. Though men have become quite comfortable with “husband,” two professors at Salem State University find that women are still working out the linguistic issues. For many old-time feminists, “wife” just carries too much baggage, “partner” doesn’t infer marriage, and “spouse” sounds a bit legalistic. But give us another seven years, and I’m sure we’ll find the right vocabulary!

Of course, same-sex couples in Massachusetts still face discrimination, which is why GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto and the Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley are challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Those suits, which argue that DOMA is unconstitutional because it forces states to treat same-sex couples differently than heterosexual couples, got a big boost this spring when the Obama administration announced that it would not defend DOMA in court.

This was great news for same-sex families who currently are denied thousands of federal marriage benefits, including Social Security survivor benefits, the right to file joint tax returns, and the right to sponsor citizenship for foreign same-sex partners. It affirmed the administration’s commitment to supporting LGBT equality, and put into sharp relief the country’s shift in attitude since 1996, when then-President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law. Though there remains strong opposition in many parts of the country, the latest national Washington Post-ABC poll shows a majority of Americans (53 percent) now support gay marriage. That’s up from 36 percent just five years ago.

That shift in public opinion is in no small part due to the “reality TV show” now playing in four New England states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont), Iowa, and the District of Columbia, all of which grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As thousands of same-sex couples have married, none of the dire predictions by the National Organization for Marriage and other right-wing evangelicals such as Pat Robertson and Chuck Colson have come true. Though some want to blame Katrina, the Great Recession, the Japanese quake/tsunami, and this year’s tornado season on the acceptance of same-sex families, most Americans find that treating people equally aligns with their most cherished values.

Of course that doesn’t mean that the road to marriage equality has been without obstacles. There were the painful setbacks in California (2008) and Maine (2009), when these states passed ballot measures that blocked previous decisions to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses. Proposition 8 in California was especially disheartening since it took away rights granted by the state’s high court, and ended a flood of same-sex marriages that had begun the previous spring. In November 2010, the anti-marriage equality movement focused on Iowa, where they convinced voters to oust three Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of marriage equality the previous year. New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland have all come close to passing marriage equality legislation but all have fallen short.

Nonetheless, as Massachusetts abolitionist Theodore Parker said, “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” In the latest round of victories, Hawaii, Illinois, and Delaware have all passed civil union bills in their current legislative sessions. Though these laws fall short of full marriage equality, they offer same-sex couples and their children significant social and economic benefits. Additionally, in a show of bipartisan support, New York marriage equality activists have raised millions of dollars from Wall Street Republicans, enlisting their support, along with that of Mayor Bloomberg, to pressure the state’s Republican-led Senate to stop blocking marriage equality legislation. Finally, just this week, Freedom to Marry announced that Caroline Kennedy had become the 100,000 signer of a petition asking President Obama to explicitly state his support for marriage equality.

Indeed one hardly needs a poll to know that we are experiencing a seismic shift in attitudes toward LGBT people. In 2004, when same-sex couples first married in Massachusetts, Vermont was the only other state where equal rights and benefits were available to same-sex couples (through civil unions). Today, 13 states and the District of Columbia–or more than one-quarter of the United States of America—recognize same-sex couples and their families. That is astounding progress in a nation that is deeply divided on a great many social and political issues. In fact, the movement for marriage equality offers hope that our nation will find its way back to a vision of the future that truly values equality and justice for all.

Karen Kahn is co-author, with Pat Gozemba, of Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages. The former editor of Sojourner: The Women’s Forum, she also edited Frontline Feminism: Essays from Sojourner’s First Twenty Years. Kahn and Patricia Gozemba got married in September 2005; they live in Salem, Massachusetts.

Author photo by Marilyn Humphries.

The $363,000 Tax Bill That Got Obama

Pat Gozemba

The story of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer has intrigued me since I came across their marriage announcement in the New York Times. On Nov. 12, 2010 on this blog I posted a short video of them. Check it out in the Nov. 12, 2010 blog below.

A $363,000 Tax Bill to Widow Led to Obama Shift in Defense of Marriage Act

from Bloomberg News

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-28/a-363-000-tax-bill-to-widow-led-to-obama-shift-in-defense-of-marriage-act.html

Widow’s Tax Bill Led to Shift on Marriage Act

Same-sex marriage is lawful in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and the District of Columbia. Photographer: David McNew/Getty Images

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer had a 40-year engagement and a two-year marriage, starting with a wedding in Canada recognized under the laws of New York, where they lived, and ending when Spyer died two years ago.

Her death triggered a $363,053 federal tax bill from which her widow would have been exempt had she been married to a man, because the federal Defense of Marriage Act bars the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions.

Windsor’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the act was one of two cited by the Obama administration to justify its decision to stop defending the law. The decision may be a turning point in the fight over putting same-sex marriages on the same footing as heterosexual unions.

“I couldn’t believe that our government would charge me $350,000 because I was married to a woman and not a man,” Windsor, 81, said in a video statement from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is helping to represent her.

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the act by 2003 affected 1,138 federal programs in which marital status was a factor in eligibility for benefits, according to the government.

Windsor’s suit to reclaim Spyer’s money from the U.S. is one of two cited by Attorney General Eric Holder in a Feb. 23 announcement that President Barack Obama’s administration would not defend the law in court.

The U.S. won’t argue the act is constitutional in Windsor’s case in federal court in New York and in a Connecticut case involving seven plaintiffs, Holder said in a press statement and letter to House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. Notices went to the judges Feb. 25.
Connecticut Case

In the Connecticut case, the seven people — each a survivor or partner of a state-recognized gay spouse — say the act deprived them of the same federal benefits afforded heterosexual couples.

Holder said the department will provide Congress “a full and fair opportunity to participate in the litigation.”

A Boehner spokesman, Kevin Smith, declined in a phone interview to say if, when or how Congress might enter the fray.

Both women in the New York case were professionals, with homes in Manhattan and Long Island. The Amsterdam-born Spyer was a clinical psychologist. Windsor, born in Philadelphia, earned a master’s degree in mathematics from New York University and built a career as a manager for International Business Machines Corp., according to a complaint filed in her case.

Their relationship began in a Greenwich Village restaurant in 1963 while both women were in their 30s. They “danced together all night,” according to the document.

Two years later, they met again on Long Island and were together from then until Spyer died.
Plan for Life

“I’d like to date for a year,” the document quotes Windsor as telling Spyer. “And if that goes the way it is now, I think I’d like to be engaged, say for a year. And if it still feels this goofy joyous, I’d like us to spend the rest of our lives together.”

An engagement that started in 1967, symbolized by a diamond pin instead of a ring that would attract notice at IBM, lasted 40 years. In 2007, with same-sex marriage then legal in Canada, they married in Toronto at ages 77 and 75.

New York, where a bill extending the right to marry to same-sex couples was defeated in 2009, recognizes such marriages that are legal in other jurisdictions, according to Windsor’s complaint.

Most recently, a New York appeals court ruled last week that the surviving husband of a same-sex couple married in Canada can inherit from the deceased man’s estate as any other spouse would.
Long Fight

Spyer, at age 45, started a three-decade battle with multiple sclerosis. Her last dances with Windsor were in an electric wheelchair. Later she developed a narrowing of a heart valve, according to the court document. She died in 2009.

Windsor paid the federal estate tax, giving her the right to ask for a refund and sue when it was denied, which she did in November.

She argues through her lawyers at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and the ACLU that the government lacks both a rational basis for the marriage act “much less a compelling interest” — the legal tests for treating members of one particular group differently from others.

Four other challenges to the law are pending in federal courts in San Francisco and in Boston, where the government has already appealed Judge Joseph L. Tauro’s July 8 decision that federal regulation of marriage was an unconstitutional breach of states’ rights. Same-sex marriage is lawful in Massachusetts.

The marriage act, Tauro ruled, forced the state to “engage in invidious discrimination against its own citizens in order to receive and retain federal funds.”
Six Challenges

Only six challenges to the 15-year-old law are in federal courts because nobody had standing to sue until same-sex marriage became legal in some places, said Jennifer Pizer, an attorney for the gay-rights group Lambda Legal.

Same-sex marriage is lawful in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and the District of Columbia.

Holder, in his letter to Boehner and in his press statement, said he will tell the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston and the judges in two San Francisco cases who are also considering the Defense of Marriage Act’s constitutionality that the more rigorous standard of constitutional review is required.

The current standard under case law in those federal circuits is that there merely be a rational basis for the law. There is no Supreme Court ruling on the marriage act that would resolve the difference.
Precedent Lacking

The appeals court that would hear the Windsor and Connecticut cases has no such precedent to follow, Holder said.

The higher standard, whether the law is substantially related to an important government objective, is used to assess the constitutionality of laws targeting minority groups that have historically suffered discrimination, the attorney general wrote.

The Obama Administration’s abdication drew fire from the marriage act’s supporters.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said in an e-mail he questions why President Barack Obama “thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation” when “most Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the law is “undoubtedly constitutional.” He accused Obama of politicizing the Justice Department, trying to empower judges to ignore democratically enacted legislation that conflicts with his ideological preference.

Supreme Court Silence

No challenge to the law has gone to the Supreme Court, and it has never said sexual orientation is cause for a heightened standard of statutory review, said Harvard Law School Professor Charles Fried, a U.S. solicitor general under Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Fried said he thinks the law is unconstitutional because marriage is an issue for states, not the federal government.

“If the states want to say this is a marriage, I don’t think the feds should be interfering with it,” he said in a Feb. 25 interview, referring to same-sex unions.

At the same time, he criticized the Obama administration for abandoning the defense of the statute.

“They should have held their noses and defended it,” Fried said. “That’s their job.”

The absence of administration support for the marriage act doesn’t mean its challengers have won.

The Justice Department will continue to enforce the law, Holder said, meaning that the administration’s abandonment of the statute’s defense shouldn’t be construed as granting same- sex couples the same federal benefits as heterosexuals.
Enforcement Requirement

The federal government is bound to enforce the law as it applies to federal rules unless it is repealed by Congress or “the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality,” Holder said in the letter to Boehner.

“Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA,” Holder said.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. Congress has repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Several lower courts have ruled DOMA itself to be unconstitutional.”

Besides the states where gay marriage is legal, seven others recognize civil unions, under which some of the same protections afforded heterosexual couples are extended to same- sex couples.

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a civil-union bill into law on Feb. 23. A similar Illinois law takes effect June 1.
State Constitutions

Twenty-nine states including Florida, Texas, Missouri, Virginia and Utah have constitutional amendments barring same- sex marriage, according to Lambda Legal, a proponent of equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

The Supreme Court backed gay rights in 1996 when it overturned a Colorado constitutional amendment that banned anti- discrimination protection for homosexuals, and again in 2003, when it struck down state laws criminalizing sodomy.

In both cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion suggested the government needed to show more than just a rational basis for enacting the challenged law. Kennedy looms as the potential swing vote should the court take up a gay marriage case, according to Paul Smith, a Jenner & Block LLP lawyer who argued on behalf of opponents of the sodomy laws and represents some of the challengers to the federal marriage law.

“One could certainly predict that he’d be likely to apply some form of heightened scrutiny even if he might still call it rational basis,” Smith said.
Motions Due

Motions to dismiss in Windsor’s case and the Connecticut matter are due March 11.

Congress could join the case by getting permission from the court, Fried said. He said it’s unclear whether the houses of Congress could act independently of each other.

Lambda’s Pizer said the appeals court in the Boston case probably would give Congress permission to intervene so there would be a complete set of arguments for Supreme Court review.

“There will be defenders,” James Esseks, an ACLU attorney, predicted. “It just won’t be the Department of Justice.”