By Bryan Ball
Throughout history, America has seen human rights victories that have given freedom to minorities. Movements such as women’s and African-American civil rights have been fought, and they have strengthened our country. As the head of a political advocacy organization working for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, it has been monumental to watch the progress of recent history.
In our state and country, we have seen equality being granted at amazing rates. In New York, we made history by passing the Marriage Equality Act, showing the nation granting civil rights to families is a nonpartisan issue. Now, as the Supreme Court of the United States deliberates cases concerning civil marriage rights for all American families, history will be made again.
To the wives, husbands and children currently unprotected by their government through the segregation of civil marriage rights to only heterosexual couples, it seems natural the court will recognize the inequality that exists when people are treated differently from others under the law. Soon, we will find out if that is the case.
Our families will be watching for the variety of possible outcomes, to see how the court will decide we are allowed to live our lives. In considering Proposition 8, the amendment that outlawed marriage equality in California, the court may uphold the ruling of the circuit court that struck down the law, and determine the state cannot give rights to one group, and deny them to another.
The second issue at hand concerns the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is the federal law that prohibits the U.S. government from recognizing any civil marriage between two persons of the same gender. For this, the court will be hearing from Edie Windsor, who married her wife in Canada, at a time when New York recognized marriages performed elsewhere.
When Windsor’s wife died, she was left to pay large sums of federal inheritance taxes; taxes which, if Windsor and her spouse were heterosexual, she wouldn’t have had to pay. This type of case is ideal for the court, as the varying national and state laws that face LGBT families call for nothing other than a nationally rendered decision.
Whatever decision the court reaches, there will be no single solution for the inequality of LGBT families. If the laws are ruled unconstitutional, legislation will have to be passed to repeal all of the DOMA legislation. The patchwork of civil rights laws that exists throughout our states will have to be made equal. Legislation will have to be passed at the national and state levels to ensure that LGBT people are free from discrimination – equal in human rights, marriage, employment, tax and immigration law. But if the court decides our families have a right to be created and treated equally, it will make the work ahead possible.
Bryan Ball is president of Stonewall Democrats of Western New York.