Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Charleston's LGBT community reacts to the DOMA/Prop 8 rulings

Sounding off on equality

Posted by Susan Cohen on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Supporters gather for gay pride march
Last night, Jen Bennett and her wife were sitting on their couch, ready for the worst but hoping for the best. Whatever the Supreme Court said the next day about marriage equailty, they were married in their hearts, even if they weren't married legally.

When the City Paper spoke to Bennett, who’s on the board of S.C. Equality, she was in happy tears and laughed that she didn’t expect to be moved this much. This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), arguing that it deprives Americans of the equal protections of the Fifth Amendment. The Courts also struck down Proposition 8, a ballot measure that halted gay marriage in California.

“It’s an amazing thing for the LGBT community because the Supreme Court has recognized that DOMA was unconstitutional because it treated people unequally,” Warren Redman-Gress, the executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, says. “So what we will see now is a stronger movement across the country to recognize and to treat all married couples the same.”

The DOMA ruling only applies to federal laws and benefits, but it means that a couple married in one of the states that has legalized marriage equality — or in a country like Canada, where Redman-Gress and his husband were married — could file joint federal tax returns, qualify for each other’s Social Security benefits, and enjoy any of the other benefits that married straight couples receive under federal law.

“The great thing is that people in California will have the ability to return to marriage equality,” he adds. That makes gay marriage legal on a state and federal level in 13 states and the District of Columbia, and for almost 100 million Americans, or a third of the country’s population. So any same-sex couple in South Carolina who was married in one of those states now has a federally recognized relationship.

Bennett and her wife have not yet been married in one of those states. Since weddings are expensive, especially if you have to travel to another part of the country to have one, Bennett and her wife decided to have a spiritual ceremony first at the Unitarian Church in Charleston before marrying in a marriage equality state.

Now that they can file their federal tax returns together, Bennett says she and her wife have a good reason to pursue a legal marriage. They were also waiting to see if Proposition 8 case was overturned, since Bennett is originally from California. Now they can return there to get married, or they could go to New York, to be closer to Bennett’s wife's family. There are a lot more options on their plate.

The DOMA ruling also affects Bennett’s work with S.C. Equality. Right now, the Columbia-based organization is working on an employment non-discrimination bill, and some of the language used in the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision will give them a stronger argument for taking care of other rights currently denied to the LGBT community, like employment discrimination and school bullying. “Overturning this kind of effects us all, not just those of us who want to get married or who have gotten married,” she says.

Rob Lewis, the chairman of Charleston Pride, is very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decisions for restoring marriage equality in California and striking down DOMA. It came right on time for the next Charleston Pride Festival, which takes place July 29-Aug. 4. “We will celebrate these decisions as victories in our ultimate fight for complete equality for all LGBT Americans,” Lewis says. “The Pride movement, our civil rights movement, will continue to work to ensure that one day Americans in every U.S. state can live and love openly, and enjoy all of the rights and privileges afforded to all married couples.”

However, as Redman-Gress says, there are 37 states that have a long way to go toward legalizing gay marriage. “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re counting on people who live in S.C. to move our state into equality," he says.

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