Monday, November 15, 2010

Neff: Love, marriage and the law

I have been enjoying Lisa Neff's work for some time. This is a touching story and highlights the reasons we must end the federal ban on gay marriage. Read to the end about the love story of Edie and Thea.
Lisa Neff
, columnist,
The day we learned that the Mexico House of Representatives voted to amend the nation’s social security rules to allow medical and social benefits for same-sex couples, we again were reminded of an ugly, selfish vote of our own House of Representatives in 1996.
That was the year Congress passed the so-called Defense of Marriage, defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman for federal purposes and allowing states to refuse recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. President Bill Clinton signed that bill late one night, without ceremony but with much anger. Remember that DOMA arrived to the White House, on a tide of unchristian-like Christian right conservativism.

On Nov. 10, legal defense groups filed two more lawsuits seeking to overturn DOMA.
Already a federal court in Massachusetts, the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, has ruled aspects of the DOMA unconstitutional in two challenges, one brought by the state and the other by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
Last week, GLAD filed another challenge, this one in federal court in Connecticut on behalf of a Connecticut widower and married couples from Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.
The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a challenge — a complaint on behalf of a widow in New York state.
The goal of these suits is to secure multiple rulings against DOMA from multiple federal districts, increasing the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue.
We want to get to the High Court because we’re not going to see a repeal of DOMA during the lame-duck session, and we’re certainly not going to see a repeal of DOMA when the new House of Representatives is seated in January.
The courts are our hope on this issue.
The courts will decide just how fairly the federal government has treated Edith “Edie” Windsor, who, in 2009, while bereaving the loss of her spouse of 44 years, found herself paying $350,000 in estate taxes to the federal government.
Windsor is the ACLU’s plaintiff in the New York challenge to DOMA. She and Thea Spyer met in the early 1960s, became engaged in 1967 and, when they could finally legally marry, went to Canada in 2007 and exchanged vows.
The brief in Windsor’s complaint details a legal argument — that DOMA violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution because it recognizes marriages of heterosexual couples, but not of same-sex couples.

Canada recognizes the marriage. New York state recognizes the marriage, but the federal government does not, with serious financial consequences. Windsor is ineligible to receive survivor benefits from Social Security, and, as the sole beneficiary of Spyer’s estate, she had to pay a sizable federal estate tax, as if she were a stranger to her wife.
Wives who lose their husbands do not pay estate taxes. Husbands who lose their wives do not pay estate taxes. But wives who lose their wives? When Windsor asked the IRS to refund the estate tax, which substantially reduced her retirement savings, the government refused, citing DOMA.
“There can be no dispute that if Thea were instead ‘Theo,’ her estate would have passed for the benefit of Edie tax-free. Solely because Edie and Thea were both women, Thea’s estate was denied the marital deduction,” the ACLU brief states.
The brief offers a convincing legal argument, but also tells a remarkable story of love and affection and dedication, a story not enough people can hear or read.
Thea Spyer was born in Amsterdam in 1931. “Having lost her mother as an infant, Thea not only knew great sadness, but as a Jew witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by Nazi Germany. Thea was fortunate enough to be able to flee Amsterdam with her stepmother at the outbreak of the Second World War, thereby escaping the Holocaust.”
Edie Windsor was born in 1929, in Philadelphia. “Edie’s parents struggled for financial security during the Great Depression, and her family lost its home when she was a child.”
Both women went to college and pursued professional careers. Spyer was a clinical psychologist and Windsor, a systems programmer.
The women met at a restaurant in New York City in 1963, when they shared their first dance and many more — Windsor danced a hole through the bottom of one of her stockings.
“After that first night dancing together, Edie and Thea occasionally saw each other at parties over the next two years,” the brief states. “At these parties, they would start dancing, and their respective dates would stand frustrated on the side of the dance floor with their coats on, waiting for Edie and Thea to separate.”
Dating and courtship led to an engagement in 1967. It was a lengthy engagement, lasting until 2007, when the two women married. “Having spent virtually their entire lives caring for each other in sickness — including Thea’s long, brave battle with multiple sclerosis — and in health, Thea and Edie were able to spend the last two years of Thea’s life together as married,” the ACLU states.
We can laugh at the thought of Windsor dancing a hole in her stocking.
And the hole in our system that drains us financially and scoffs at our commitments even as we mourn our husbands and wives? The courts are our hope now.

No comments:

Post a Comment