News that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples gives the highest court in the land a chance to reaffirm that most traditional of American values: equality under the law. Let's hope they do the right thing.
Both cases involve marriage for gay couples, but they actually present quite distinct issues. One case, Windsor v. U.S., involves Edie Windsor and her late wife Thea Spyer, who were legally married and simply want the federal government to stop treating their marriage differently from everyone else's marriages. Windsor, now 83, was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes after Thea died, because their marriage was legal under state law but not recognized under federal law. If Spyer had married a man instead of a woman, no estate tax would have been owed.
The second case involves couples who want to get married but can't because of California's Prop 8 ban on equal marriage rights. That case raises the issue of whether California's ban on marriage for same-sex couples violates the federal constitution. A victory for equal rights in the Prop 8 case could be big--striking down discrimination in all 50 states--or could simply uphold the ruling of the 9th Circuit court of appeals that discrimination is unconstitutional in California.
Either way, the decisions--expected in June 2013--will mark a historic turning point for our country, akin to victories affirming equal rights for women and all people regardless of race. In each of these historic moments, our country set aside fear and prejudice, siding instead with that uniquely American value: equal rights under the law.
When Thea and I met nearly 50 years ago, we never could have dreamed that the story of our life together would be before the Supreme Court as an example of why gay married couples should be treated equally, and not like second-class citizens. While Thea is no longer alive, I know how proud she would have been to see this day.
The truth is, I never expected any less from my country.
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