Today is a beautiful day to make history. The infamous Defense of Marriage Act has been ruled unconstitutional, and California's contentious Proposition 8 remains shot down. For the 12 states that support same-sex marriage, homosexual couples now have the same financial and legal rights as any heterosexual one.
The unusual pair of lawyers, David Boies and Ted Olson, spearheaded the case for Prop. 8. Normally, the two had butted legal heads as one was a liberal and the other was a conservative. The last time they were even in a courtroom together, they represented the clashing sides of Bush (Olson) v. Gore (Boies) in 2000. Nonetheless, the two joined forces when arguing the legality of a historic amendment — what Olson called "the highlight of my life."
The team initially came together when California's Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples in May 2008. In the ensuing excitement, approximately 18,000 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples within the following months. However, a sad day in November 2008 saw voters adopt an amendment to Prop. 8 stating "only marriage between a man and a woman" was valid. Yet the two carried on. "When we win," David Boies told PBS's Charlie Rose in a recent interview, "we'll have eliminated the last bastion of official discrimination."
This suit was paired with the following key case of The United States v. Windsor, which directly challenged DOMA, the statute which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages sanctioned by the states. The case is named after the moving story of 83-year-old Edie, whose partner and love of her life, Thea Spyer, died after their 40-year-long engagement due to complications with multiple sclerosis (MS). In the last year of her life, Thea and Edie flew to Canada to be web by Canada's first openly gay judge, Justice Harvey Brownstone.
But there was a catch. While New York officially recognized out-of-state same-sex marriages, then-president Clinton's DOMA act, made it impossible for same-sex couples to receive any federal benefits, including those that fall under the tax code. That means Edie had to pay over $363,000 in federal estate taxes on the inheritance of her wife's estate. However, thanks to her dedication and the dedication of her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, DOMA is invalid. New York recognizes the equality of both heterosexual and homosexual marriages, meaning Windsor can have an unlimited spousal deduction and is entitled to a full refund of all paid federal estate taxes.
Without a doubt, this will be the cornerstone of future LGBTQ equality movements. In a moving statement, Olson described this day as "the most important thing we've done in our lives. It's not just become a legal challenge, but it's about the hearts and minds of a country changing."
And though the battle rages on, and individual states may still challenge the rights of same-sex couples, at least it can be said that in the 12 states where gay marriage is legal, gay couples are entitled to the federal benefits of marriage (such as preferential estate-tax treatment and social security benefits), and can also assume the responsibilities of the relationship like listing a spouse's assets on financial disclosure forms.
But likely the most moving part of the issue is the simple dignity that comes with the full recognition of this basic human right. Congratulations to Mrs. Edie Windsor and to the nation on a wonderfully historic day.