Sunday, January 11, 2009

Call it what you will, Give me "Civil Marriage" or Full Equality

Most of what follows is lifted verbatim from Crapaud's friends at SOULFORCE with a few embellishments by the Toad hisself.

Already, millions of lesbian and gay Americans live together as married couples, in loving, committed, long-term relationships. Every year, thousands of new same-gender marriages are being performed (overtly and covertly) not just by Gay Church clergy, but by enlightened and courageous Protestant, Jewish, and even Catholic ministers and priests as well. We have that rite and will continue to celebrate it, even in the face of bigotry and discrimination.

Lesbian and gay couples, even if they are married legally in one jurisdiction, in the eyes of God as blessed by their own church, and in the eyes of their supportive friends and family, are yet denied over 1,047 federal and state rights and protections that go automatically with mixed-gender marriage.

Legally, all it would take is the repeal of, or judicial pronouncement that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. DOMA purportedly overrules by federal fiat some 200 years of American jurisprudence that recognized that every state must give full faith and credit or "comity" to the marriages of every other state. After DOMA is gone, all marriages emanating from those states or countries which have already embraced marriage equality would legally have to be recognized in every other state.

This - constitutionally - is true, even if the other state chooses not to change its own laws regarding who can marry there. Overriding that long-standing federal notion of equal dignity of marriages, no matter where celebrated, was the whole "reason" DOMA was legislated. Its time for it to go, as a first good step. The US Supreme Court landmark decision in Loving v Virginia simply resulted in Virginia's ban of interracial marriage being overridden by the validity of that marriage contracted where it was legal. It did not say that anybody in Virginia had to perform any marriage at all.

No legislature would have to grapple with anything. No legislators would have to spend unnecessary time in demagoguery, scapegoating, and otherwise pandering to fringe elements of the voting public so fond of imposing their peculiar personal notions of "morality"---majority tyranny by those espousing a Puritanical theocracy.

The legal solution is simple, the political one is not. But some day soon the political will shall inevitably overwhelm the political expedience of the naysayers who delude themselves and convince others that they can save traditional marriage by banning other human couples from it.

The following is just a small sample of the rights that outlawing same-gender marriage deny:

• Automatic Inheritance
Note: Even with a well-drawn Last Will & Testament, a surviving gay spouse is:
a) Denied the Social Security survivor benefits that are made available to all married couples;
b) Heavily taxed on any retirement plan – 401(k) or IRA – they “inherit” from their partners, although married spouses can inherit these plans tax-free; and
c) Charged estate and inheritance taxes on the inheritance of a home, even if it was jointly owned – a tax that would not apply to married spouses.
d) At significant risk of losing their home when an elderly or chronically ill partner enters a nursing home. This is because federal Medicaid law permits a married spouse to remain in the couple’s home when a husband or wife enters a nursing home – but it does not grant unmarried couples the same right.
• Assumption of Spouse's Pension
• Bereavement Leave
• Burial Determination
• Child Custody
• Divorce Protections
• Domestic Violence Protection
• Exemption from Property Tax on Partner's Death
• Immigration Rights for Foreign Spouse
• Insurance Breaks
• Joint Adoption and Foster Care
• Joint Bankruptcy
• Joint Parenting (Insurance Coverage, School Records)
• Medical Decision on Behalf of Partner
• Various Property Rights automatically available to mixed gender spouses
• Reduced Rate Memberships
• Sick Leave to Care for Partner
• Social Security Survivor Benefits
• Tax Breaks
• Visitation of Partner's Children
• Visitation of Partner in Hospital or Prison
• Wrongful Death Benefits

How many times unsupportive parents have misused the law to cut off one partner from the love and comfort of another in his or her greatest hour of need? How many times surviving parents or more distant relatives have been awarded child custody instead of the surviving gay or lesbian parent or have been given prized possessions a couple has earned together?

This debate is not about marriage. It is about the immoral and unconstitutional practice of withholding those legal rights from millions of law-abiding, tax-paying Americans and their core families on the basis of sexual orientation alone. It is not only about the human dignity rights denied loving, committed couples, it is all the more about denying rights to their legal children to:

• Inherit from their parents

• Be supported financially by both parents and grandparents in the event of “divorce”

• Continue childhood relationships with a “divorced” parent or grandparent

Black comedians have said for years that "justice" must be spelled "just us" because black folk look at the criminal justice system and all they see is "us" being herded disproportionately though those portals. Gay folk see now that "just us" are denied the right to marry. How long will we have to wait for justice? Not long. How long can the demagogues stem the tide of just progress. Not long.

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