In striking down DOMA, Supreme Court does the right thing

Right_Delayed

by John Zangas

SCOTUS did the right thing today when it struck down DOMA, finding it unconstitutional. The decision gives citizens like plaintiff Edith Windsor equal access under the law. After all, she is a tax-paying American and should have full the privileges and benefits which are bestowed on others.

Other countries such as France and Spain already recognize marriage rights for gays. There are 11 countries that recognize gay marriage. People will look back on it decades from now and wonder what took us so long for us Americans to change the law.

The SCOTUS decision in effect recognizes the LGBT community as a class. It is an evolutionary decision in the history of our country. Still, I find it strange that any Justice would dissent from the overall decision.

SCOTUS also punted on Prop 8–they found that the plaintiffs had “no standing” and declined to rule on the larger issue of gay marriage as a right. That means the right to marry has been restored in California, but other states don’t have to recognize gay marriages.

Every state should follow suit in allowing gay marriage, because it is the inevitable conclusion to a protracted struggle for gay rights. LGBT activists will be unable to retreat from the marriage issue, until this last momentous task is complete.

Fortunately, the mountain to climb to equal rights in marriage may not be as hard to ascend as it used to be. The Department of Defense, one of the most conservative power structures in our society, has already moved in the right direction by removing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) from its regulations, thus allowing gays to come out of hiding. They also recognize gay married couples for benefits, and most recently, endorsed open Pride festivities.

Overall, I see the Supreme Court’s decisions as a huge step forward for the LGBT community. I feel a sense of relief for all of my gay activist friends who fought for years for this decision. Now other branches of the government should finish the work of implementing the rights of everyone.

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Dispatch from the steps of the Supreme Court: Outsiders asking to be let in

Family

On Wednesday, March 27, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Windsor v. United States, a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. With two hearings on successive days related to the polarizing issue of same-sex marriage, there has been a frenzy of activity outside the Court. John Zangas has been there to report.

by John Zangas

As the Supreme Court hears the DOMA arguments, I’m reflecting on the historic events outside the Court over the past few days. What has struck me most is the spirit and resolve of the families I met on the Court steps.

The voices of their children were especially moving to me. They just want their parents to be happy and to live like other families do. They said they are as ordinary, plain, and real as anyone. They got a moment to speak their truth, and I got to record and photograph it.

These families eclipsed the inequality embedded in laws like DOMA and Prop 8 just by their presence, compassion and humanity during two days of hearings.

Every element on the steps of the Court–the activists’ posters, the police, press, even the ugly hate slogans–was necessary to tell a story about this country. Right now it’s a story about being on the outside and knocking on the door to be let in.

The question is, will the Court finally let them into our house?

Interview with Kathy, Carey and their son:

Dispatch from the steps of the Supreme Court: High energy on Day 1

Qween2

by John Zangas

On March 26, oral arguments were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in Hollingworth v. Perry, a case to reinstate Proposition 8, California’s ballot initiative declaring same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

A frigid day started at 5:30 a.m. with a cold group of sleepovers rising off the sidewalk. As the sun warmed them and more supporters arrived, they roared to life with a vibrant energy. Overwhelmingly for marriage equality, the crowd overpowered several small religious groups speaking against it. Anti-marriage equality folks created a tense situation with signs and slogans, but a colorful youth named Qween danced right in front of them with a pink cross. She joyfully galvanized everyone with dance and turned tension and hate into laughter and smiles. She certainly is a young hero.

I interviewed Qween last night, and she seemed hopeful that change would come. I also interviewed a young attorney; the Lambda legal team of Jon Davidson and Jennifer Pizer; a gay couple who had been together 26 years; and a boy named Leo Crampton whose mothers are to be wed today. I also interviewed a person who believes that marriage is between a man and woman only. They were all very positive and hopeful interviews.

In my view, I believe Justice Kennedy’s line of questioning regarding the impact of Prop 8 on children of same-sex parents is important to this case. How can one justify the negative effects that Prop 8 and DOMA have on these children?

It is impossible to say how the Court will rule. They may find that Prop 8’s defenders have no standing and discard it. Or they could rule on the pivotal issue of marriage equality directly.

The oral arguments of Hollingsworth v. Perry were insulated from the opinions expressed so passionately outside. But based on the sentiments I recorded on the Court’s steps, the time has come for the Justices to rule on this issue directly. This is a historic moment for this court, which probably wants to have its signature on the right side. A ruling for marriage equality will probably prove to be inevitable in light of the support of the President and changes in the U.S. military.

I’ll continue covering the people and stories outside the court as arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) go forward tomorrow.

Supreme Court marriage hearings draw thousands willing to brave Washington’s soggy snow

Both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage are arriving in Washington because of two Supreme Court hearings this week on the controversial issue.

The District, however, didn’t greet visitors with beautiful spring cherry blossoms. Instead, Supreme Court watchers got here just in time for the first snow accumulation in two years.

Shivering and soggy at the base of the Supreme Court’s steps, they nonetheless queued up for tickets to hearings challenging Prop 8, a ballot initiative passed in California, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law.

Several, mostly opponents of Prop 8 and DOMA, are still keeping vigil Monday night in a cold rain. Tents line the sidewalk along 1st Street.

Thousands are expected by Tuesday morning to advocate for their position on gay marriage. For proponents of marriage equality, banishing the Defense of Marriage Act would mean that couples legally married in states permitting same-sex marriage would receive a myriad of federal benefits now denied to them. They also hope that the Court will uphold a federal circuit court’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

DSC_0017Supporters of Prop 8 hope that it will be reinstated and DOMA remains intact, which would keep barriers to same-sex marriage high and establish legal precedent against it.

Whether the Court decides to apply the equal protection clause could determine the extent to which the cases are far-reaching in scope.

They face hurdles of “standing” in the Court. The cases are unusual in that both the state of California (in the case of Prop 8) and the Obama administration (in the case of DOMA) declined to defend the statutes. It may be unprecedented that members of the Congressional House–and not the Department of Justice–will attempt to defend a federal law at the Supreme Court.

The Court will most likely not hand down rulings on the cases until late June.