The Supreme Court hears two cases this week regarding same-sex marriage -- a case challenging California's Proposition 8 today and the ACLU's own DOMA case tomorrow.
That case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Windsor v. United States, is involves Edie Windsor who lived with Thea Spyer in New York City for 44 years. After a 40 year engagement they were finally married in Canada in May 2007. Two years later, Thea passed away.
When she died, the federal government refused to recognize the couple's marriage and taxed Edie's inheritance from Thea as though they were strangers. Under federal tax law, a spouse who dies can leave her assets, including the family home, to the other spouse without incurring estate taxes.
New York recognized Edie and Thea's marriage, but because of a federal law called the "Defense of Marriage Act," or DOMA, the federal government refuses to treat married same-sex couples, like Edie and Thea, the same way as other married couples.
Both cases come at a time when public support of same-sex couples in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, is at an all-time high. In fact, recent polls show a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that 58 percent of Americans support gay marriage.
Here in Montana, our case for domestic partnerships, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, continues. We are currently amending the case, taking into account the Montana Supreme Court's December ruling that we must go after individual statutes rather than the entire system that excludes same-sex couples from the benefits held by opposite-sex married couples.
This effort for same-sex couples is just part of the ACLU's work for fairness and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Here in Montana, we also support the passage of nondiscrimination ordinances in Montana cities and statewide, we brought the case that found the Montana law criminalizing same-sex sex unconstitutional, and we support the rights of LGBT students. We also brought litigation that made concrete the rights of gay and lesbian parents.
Nationally the ACLU has battled government discrimination of all sorts against LGBT people since the 1950s.
James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project describes just some of that work in a blog entry posted today:
"In 1956, we challenged a police raid on a popular gay bar in the San Francisco Bay Area and in 1965, challenged another police raid on a high-profile New Year's Eve charity fundraiser sponsored by the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. In 1996, we were co-counsel in Romer v. Evans, in which the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to Colorado's constitution that would have barred any non-discrimination protections for gay people. And in 2008, we represented Diane Schroer, a decorated Colonel in the Army Special Forces when she was denied a job as a terrorism researcher because she came out as a transgender woman – litigation that resulted in a landmark decision holding that federal law banning sex discrimination protects people who are changing gender.
"We started fighting the military's ban on gay people back in 1970, and brought Witt v. United States Air Force, in which a federal court held that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was unconstitutional, just before it was repealed by Congress.
"The ACLU has fought state bans on gay people being adoptive or foster parents for years as well. We got the Arkansas Supreme Court to strike down that state's ban on foster parenting by gay people, and also its ban on adoption or foster parenting by any unmarried couples, gay or straight. And, after five lawsuits over 20 years, we succeeded in getting Florida's courts to strike down that state's ban on adoption by gay people, passed back in 1977 in Anita Bryant's famously anti-gay campaign."
We aren't going to stop until ALL people are treated equally.