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Washington voters say ‘I do’ to same-sex marriage

In the Nov. 6 general election, Washington state voters passed Referendum 74, which legally recognizes same-sex marriages.

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(CNN) — Any way you slice it, thousands of same-sex couples across the United States were thrilled by Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings. But in 37 states, some same-sex couples weren’t as happy as they’d hoped to be.

They’re the 37 states that ban same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 weren’t broad enough to change that status.

Don’t get them wrong, many couples in these states feel the ruling is an overall victory, especially for “our folks in California [who] can be blissfully married again,” as Maryland resident Nicolene du Toit, who anxiously awaited the ruling with her wife over the phone, put it. In addition to saying that same-sex marriages could resume in California, the court decided that same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits. But some couples couldn’t help but be disappointed that the rulings may not make a difference in their own states — at least for now.

What’s next for gay rights movement?

“Immediately, it doesn’t mean anything,” said Brandi Ansley of Atlanta. Georgia is one of the states that does not allow same-sex marriage. “There’s no reason for us to run out and get married (in a state that allows it), because she wouldn’t be able to insure me and the children.”

South Carolina resident Jordan Sullivan agreed. “It’s a wonderful step in the right direction, but I still can’t help but feel sad and disappointed that the ruling does not extend to all states, including South Carolina,” said Sullivan, who’s been with her partner nearly three years and would like to get married. “I can only hope we won’t be like the last kid picked in gym class.”

And for couples like Casey Miller and John Martin, the federal benefits ruling brings up a number of questions that even legal experts don’t agree on. Miller and Martin were legally married in California in 2008. But they live in Texas, where same-sex marriage isn’t recognized. So will they qualify for federal tax, health and pension benefits?

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of law at the University of California-Irvine and a constitutional law expert, says yes.

“A couple that was lawfully married in a state, but moves to another state, still is married,” he said. “Their marriage has not been ended, even if not recognized in their new state. So they get all federal benefits accorded to married couples, though their marriage will not be recognized in their new state.”

But Neil Siegel, a law professor at Duke University and an expert on the Supreme Court, didn’t think the issue was quite so black and white.

Opinion: Fight for gay rights must continue

“It’s not clear,” he said. “The federal agencies are going to have to decide, and different agencies may decide differently. Congress could always step in, and eventually you’re going to have federal courts ruling. There may be additional protection from certain federal agencies, but it’s not clear at this point which ones or when.”

“It wouldn’t be surprising to me to hear the president order the federal agencies to say that if [a same-sex couple] is lawfully married in one state, that they have to provide benefits wherever they’re living,” he added.

Same-sex couples: What the Supreme Court decision means for your finances

Miller finds all the uncertainty frustrating and described the rulings as “an expensive baby step.”

“Are we still second-class citizens?” he asked. Other same-sex couples in states that do not allow them to marry say they’re still worried about the same issues that plagued them before, like hospital visitation, adoption and end-of-life rights. And some say that, even if they could be afforded federal benefits by marrying in a state that allows same-sex marriage, they deserve the right to get married in the states where they’ve made their home.

“I hope the Supreme Court takes the ruling a step further to make it a national law, so we can legally get married under big oak trees in Charleston, with our friends and family from all over the world sharing the joy and excitement on a day that once didn’t seem possible,” mused Sullivan.

“To my LGBT brethren in more accepting states, especially you who got a double in California…rejoice and be happy, for this day is truly yours,” wrote R.J. McKay, an Ohio resident who’s been with his partner for 15 years. “For those of us stuck in less accepting states, this was a huge symbolic win…keep (your) eye on the prize.”

–Rachel Rodriguez, CNN/CNN’s Christina Zdanowicz, Daphne Sashin, Nicole Saidi and Julia Carpenter contributed to this report.

SEATTLE — Harley Broe has been an accountant for the past 40 years, and many of her clients are same-sex couples.

cheers

Celebrations held at the federal courthouse in Seattle Wednesday over the decision to throw out the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act.

“They’ve been asking me this whole past year about what to expect for tax planning, estate planning, and I’ve had to say to them, I don’t know,” Broe said.

Now she has more answers for them.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act means big changes for gay couples who are married in Washington state.

“If I’m married to my spouse and my spouse dies, I can get survivor’s Social Security benefits, which has not been the case. If I die, my spouse can inherit my estate without paying a huge amount of estate tax,” Broe said.

She added that these couples should now be able to file a joint tax return, and won’t have to pay income tax for their spouse’s health care benefits.

For Nancy Woods and Jana Simpson, that is huge.  Woods is taxed on $7,200 a year for her wife, Simpson, to be covered under her health insurance.

“With three small kids, that’s a lot of money. That’s another trip to Disneyland,” Woods said.

Simpson will now also have guaranteed rights to her wife’s retirement benefits through the Navy.

Ken Thompson and his partner, Otts Bolisay, have been together 11 years. Bolisay came to the United States 25 years ago from the Bahamas.

“At any moment, if he lost his current job, that would also end his visa and within 30 days he would have to leave the U.S. You make a permanent commitment to someone and you don’t know if you can really stay together here and it’s hard,” Thompson said.

They no longer have to worry about that and say they are looking forward to getting married for that very reason.

It’s a good idea for same-sex couples to contact their accountants and attorneys to make sure they complete any necessary paperwork, experts said.  Also, employees can check in with human resource managers at work on changes to health insurance income tax.

SEATTLE — The U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, and the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act. Court observers expect the court to issue its opinions on June 26 or June 27.

Charlene Strong of The Advocacy Group discusses the issue.

Local News
06/07/13

Gay couples make up 20% of state’s new marriages

same sexOLYMPIA – New numbers show hundreds of same-sex couples have gotten married since Referendum 74 took effect.

Between December 9, 2012 and March 31, 2013, nearly 2,500 same-sex couples tied the knot. That’s more than 20 percent of the 11,661 marriages that occurred in that time. Female couples constituted the largest number of unions — 63 percent — during that time.

According to the Department of Health, same-sex marriages happened in 35 of the state’s 39 counties. Ferry, Asotin, Garfield and Wahkiakum counties haven’t reported any marriages and one-third of new marriages were performed in King County.

Since Washington is one of the states that allow same-sex marriage, 14 percent of the couples who got married came from another state.

Local News
04/26/13

Bill would let businesses discriminate against gays

21528621_BG1OLYMPIA — Several Republican lawmakers say a Richland florist had the right to refuse working for a gay wedding. That florist is being sued by the Washington State Attorney General and the ACLU.

Now several Washington state Republicans are pushing a bill that would exempt business owners from being required to provide services if it’s against their faith. That bill was introduced in the state Senate on Thursday by bill sponsor Senator Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick.

Senate bill 5927 would grant businesses and individuals “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, philosophical belief, or matter of conscience.”

The bill comes after State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit in early April against Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts of Richland, Wash., for refusing to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

The Attorney General’s Office said that on March 1, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, refused to provide wedding flowers to longtime customer Robert Ingersoll based on her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Ferguson sent a letter to Stutzman on March 28 requesting she reconsider her position and sign an agreement indicating her intention to comply with Washington laws. Stutzman’s attorneys responded Monday and said that Stutzman would challenge any state action to enforce the law.

“As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

The Senate bill was introduced yesterday and has been referred to the Law & Justice Committee for further review.

The Seattle Human Rights Commission issued the following statement:

 

“The Seattle Human Rights Commission denounces this amendment to the existing bill, as it contravenes the very purpose of the anti-discriminatory law itself, and serves as a poorly disguised tactic to allow individuals to discriminate against members of our LGBT community. The legal obligations of States includes the responsibility to safeguard the human rights of LGBT people, this is well established in international human rights law on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequently agreed international human rights treaties. All people, irrespective of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protections provided for by international human rights law, including in respect of rights to life, liberty, security of person (Article 3 UDHR) and privacy (Article 12 UDHR), the right to receive equal protection under the law and be free from discrimination (Article 7, UDHR), and the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly (Article 19).”

169401_prop8_1208_RCGBy Tina Sussman

Los Angeles Times

Rhode Island took a step Wednesday toward becoming the 10th state to recognize gay marriage after the Senate passed a bill that could clear the way for same-sex weddings to begin this summer.

The bill passed 26 to 12 after about 90 minutes of debate and is due to take effect Aug. 1, assuming nothing blocks what is seen as a routine vote in the House and the signature of Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Chafee, an independent, supports the legislation, and the House easily passed the bill in January. It must vote on it again because of amendments made before the Senate vote, and its approval is seen as virtually guaranteed.

After Wednesday’s vote, Chafee issued a statement saying he was “always proud to be a Rhode Islander, but never more so than today.”

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7 to 4 to advance the bill to the full Senate, where all five Republican members had vowed to support it. The committee also voted 6 to 5 against letting voters decide on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

But it has been a long and difficult battle for the legislation, which Sen. Donna Nesselbush said had been in the works for more than 20 years. Nesselbush, a Democrat who is openly gay, was the bill’s sponsor and called its passage a “historic moment” that would undo decades of discrimination.

She said the bill protects religious leaders who oppose same-sex marriage by including a provision that permits them to opt out of performing gay weddings.

“The eyes of the nation are upon us,” Nesselbush said as lawmakers prepared to vote.

As promised, the five Senate Republicans joined 21 Democrats in supporting the bill. The 12 “no” votes came from 11 Democrats and one independent. Democrats opposed included the Senate president, Teresa Paiva-Weed, who allowed debate on the bill to go forward despite her objection to same-sex marriage.

“I give her a lot of credit,” Nesselbush told the Providence Journal earlier this week. I’ve heard stories about leaders derailing bills or killing bills, and that’s not happening, and that says something about her.”

Assuming the bill is signed into law, Rhode Island would join New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington and Iowa in recognizing same-sex marriage. Washington, D.C., also allows same-sex marriage.

The action by the Rhode Island lawmakers came two days after legislators in Nevada moved to end a ban on same-sex marriage there. During the often emotional debate, a state senator stunned fellow lawmakers by announcing that he is gay.

arlenes

(Photo: thinkprogress.org)

OLYMPIA — State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit Tuesday against Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts of Richland, Wash., for refusing to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

The Attorney General’s Office said that on March 1, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, refused to provide wedding flowers to longtime customer Robert Ingersoll based on her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Ferguson sent a letter to Stutzman on March 28 requesting she reconsider her position and sign an agreement indicating her intention to comply with Washington laws. Stutzman’s attorneys responded Monday and said that Stutzman would challenge any state action to enforce the law.

“As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

In a complaint filed in Benton County Superior Court Tuesday, the Attorney General’s Office seeks a permanent injunction requiring Arlene’s Flowers to comply with the state’s consumer protection laws. The state also seeks $2,000 in fines for every violation of the law.

Here is the letter the Attorney General sent to the owner of Arlene’s Flowers: StutzmanShifleyLtrAOD.2013-03-28

And here is the response of the attorney’s representing the owner of Arelene’s Flowers: 2013 04 08 Response to AG

SEATTLE — The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday for and against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, which restricts federal marriage benefits and required inter-state recognition to marriages only between a man and woman.

However the Supreme Court rules, it won’t directly affect the 41 states that don’t have gay marriage, at least not right away. The immediate change would affect states such as Washington, where gay and lesbian couples are allowed to get married under state law but aren’t recognized under federal law.  And because they aren’t, they don’t have access to the many federal benefits that come with marriage.

rally“They are doing everything we ask people in this country to do — pay taxes, look out for their children, and they face DOMA and (are) told, you are second class,” said Lisa Stone, executive director of Legal Voice, a Seattle-based advocacy group for women. “If DOMA falls, then their families have full recognition, not just the 187 rights in Washington state but the 1,100-plus that come with full citizenship.”

Among those federal rights: Access to a partner’s Social Security benefits; ability to file a joint tax return; health care benefits for the spouses of federal employees, including those in the military; and many more.

“If I caught the flu and I needed to go see a doctor (under her spouse’s federal health care plan), I wouldn’t be able to because that’s not covered,” said Kelly Martin, who was married to a federal employee in Washington last December. Her spouse, Lindsey, is a petty officer in the Navy. 

She would like to go back overseas, and, at the moment I can’t go overseas with her because DOMA is preventing us from being a recognized married couple,” Martin said.

Martin was among dozens who rallied Wednesday in downtown Seattle to mark the historic day at the Supreme Court.

“We’d like to be given the exact same benefits as every other couple in the country and, you know, full citizenship,” said rally attendee LeeAnn Martison, who plans to marry her partner Colleen Ozolitis soon.

The Supreme Court is expected to come down with its DOMA ruling, and a ruling on a California same-sex marriage case that was argued Tuesday, sometime between now and June.

 

 

Washington (CNN) — Day Two of the culture wars at the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage looks at the Defense of Marriage Act, with the justices considering Wednesday whether a federal law can deny equal benefits permitted in states where gay marriage is legal.

The arguments conclude presentations before the high court on one of the most prevalent social issues of this era — the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed and receive the full benefits of law provided to heterosexual couples.

Wednesday’s case examines the practical impact of the 1996 act, which defines marriage as between a man and woman and therefore means federal tax, Social Security, pension and bankruptcy benefits as well as family medical leave protections do not apply to legally married gay and lesbian couples.

It involves Edith “Edie” Windsor, who was forced to assume an estate tax bill much larger than a surviving spouse in a heterosexual marriage would have to pay.

Because her decades-long partner was a woman, the federal government did not recognize their same-sex marriage in legal terms, even though their home state of New York did.

169401_prop8_1208_RCG

“I was devastated by the loss of the great love of my life, and I was also very sick, then had to deal with pulling together enough money to pay for the taxes,” the 83-year-old Windsor recently told CNN.

For the complete CNN story, go here.

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