The same-sex marriage debate will begin anew in Minnesota tomorrow when sponsors of a bill to legalize same sex marriage unveil their initiative.
Minnesota was one of the first states to legally rule that people of the same sex cannot be married. In 1971, Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell (picture) challenged Hennepin County's refusal to grant them a marriage license. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against the couple and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Twenty-five years later, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act and a year later, Minnesota passed its own version, specifically prohibiting same-sex marriage.
In Washington today an 83-year old woman challenged the federal DOMA when she filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. When Edith Schlain Windsor's spouse died four years ago, she said, she had to pay a $363,053 estate tax. If she'd married a man, she would have paid nothing.
They were married in Canada after her spouse was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and although New York, where the couple lived, recognizes same-sex marriage, DOMA does not.
The 77-page brief filed today provides something so often missing in the political debate around the issue: a human story.
Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog tells it:
She noted that, at the time she fell in love with Thea Spyer in the early 1960s, it was "a time when lesbians and gay men risked losing their families, friends, and livelihoods if their sexual orientation became known." The couple then began "a relationship that would last until Dr. Spyer's death forty-four years later."
Before they met, Ms. Windsor had tried a brief marriage with a man "because she did not believe that it was possible for her to live openly as a lesbian." While she was in graduate school, she noted, she worked as a computer programmer for the Atomic Energy Commission at a time when a presidential executive order barred the government from employing homosexuals -- but she was never asked by the FBI about her sexual orientation in reviewing her eligibility for security clearance.
When she was later hired by IBM as a programmer, that employment, too, was supposed to be barred because IBM was a government contractor.
When she and Dr. Spyer were engaging in their courtship in New York City, they met at a restaurant where lesbians were allowed to eat. After they moved in together and became engaged, Dr. Spyer gave her a diamond brooch instead of a ring, to avoid questions from Ms Windsor's co-workers if they knew she was engaged.
Much of the debate about same-sex marriage has focused on perceived morality. When the Supreme Court hears the challenge next month, it may come down to one old woman's tax bill.
Lyle Denniston: "When she and Dr. Spyer were engaging in their courtship in New York City, they met at a restaurant where lesbians were allowed to eat."
Did the restaurant employ a psychic greeter to discern the sexual preferences of its customers?
@Chris, consider that police raids of gathering places for gay and lesbian people were commonplace in the 1960s and prior. So, while worded clumsily, "allowed to eat" was more about places being allowed to exist with low-to-minimal harassment and few-if-any public arrests which ruined careers and reputations.
"One old woman's" tax bill? How about "a widow's" tax bill?
Edie has talked about how invasive the estate settlement process was, and it was something that few of us can begin to imagine.
During their decades-long time together, Thea's need to stay active and engaged in the face of multiple sclerosis led to Edie leaving her IBM career early. After Thea died, the tax bill didn't just come from adding up the totals of bank balances and real estate appraisals. Everything they had shared over 40+ years had to be apportioned to one or the other based on which of them had earned what and who had paid for what. Edie had to account for every gift she had received from Thea, every piece of furniture, every bit of wall art, so it could now be considered part of the estate being "gifted" to her.
Imagine asking any other elderly widow to appraise her 40-y/o diamond engagement broach and her less-than 2-y/o wedding ring, because her choice was to either give them up or pay estate taxes on them.
Is she just an old woman with an odd tax bill?
//Is she just an old woman with an odd tax bill?
Odd? I don't believe anyone said it was odd.
My tax bill would be different if I had children. Can I file a lawsuit?
//"My tax bill would be different if I had children. Can I file a lawsuit?"
Thanks for asking; Is there a Federal Law prohibiting you from having children?
My partner purchased some classy Rosa Parks stamps from the US postal service a couple weeks ago. The thought running through my head is that one day, our sons will be purchasing Edith Schlain Windsor stamps. For forty-plus years, they took care of each other "in sickness and in health". I'm not certain it gets anymore conservative than that.
xopher: "Thanks for asking; Is there a Federal Law prohibiting you from having children?"
No Federal law prohibited this woman from having children.
Bose: "@Chris, consider that police raids of gathering places for gay and lesbian people were commonplace in the 1960s and prior."
Bose, a restaurant is not a gay bar. There was no way for a restaurant to determine the sexual preferences of two women coming in to have dinner.
Neither were the police interested in arresting same-sex pairs of people dining together.
It was a silly, hand-wringing description.
@Chris - reread xopher's post and the one that they were responding to (Kevin Watterson) and then rethink your response. There is no law preventing anyone from having children and taking the appropriate tax deductions, there is a law preventing this woman from taking the appropriate tax deduction that other widows take. That is the discrimination.
//Neither were the police interested in arresting same-sex pairs of people dining together.
Really. I think they were.
@ Sandy "@Chris - reread xopher's post and the one that they were responding to (Kevin Watterson) and then rethink your response." - Based on Chris' posts, I'm thinking Chris isn't all that bright.
Can we please avoid verbally attacking each other and instead discuss the facts and the issue, or the clarity of the writing? This is one of the blogs where I still read comments.
I'll fully admit firing off emotional comments in the blogosphere. Just trying to encourage all of us to have conversations. Respectful ones.