The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and toss out a case addressing California’s Proposition 8, yesterday left Representative Frank Ferri searching for the words to express his emotions.
“The Supreme Court just made a ruling that all Americans are equal,” said Ferri in a phone interview. “It’s so emotional; we aren’t second-class citizens anymore.”
By ruling against DOMA, the Supreme Court has said married, same-sex couples are entitled to the federal benefits of any married couple. The ruling does not affect the banning of same-sex marriage in state constitutions.
David Olsen, Warwick city treasurer, could not help but think of same-sex couples in those states, despite his happiness.
“Len and I are absolutely ecstatic,” said Olsen, who married Len Flood on Oct. 2, 2010 in Swansea, Mass. “I still think of others in states where same sex marriage is not legal, but hopefully that will change.”
Ferri says he and his husband, Anthony Caparco, are “ecstatic” as well. He said the feelings mirror what he felt when Rhode Island legalized same-sex marriage on May 2 and feels his relationship is seen as equal to anyone else’s.
“That’s how it feels personally,” said Ferri.
The historical DOMA ruling comes from the case Windsor vs. U.S. A New York woman, Edie Windsor, was married to her partner, Thea Clara Spyer, for over 40 years when Spyer passed away. Because DOMA, a federal act, defined marriage as between a man and a woman, Windsor was being charged $363,000 in estate taxes from property that Spyer left to her. Had Windsor been married to a man, she would not have had that bill.
“The Court explained that the federal government’s failure to recognize the marriage of same-sex couples legally married in a particular state is discriminatory,” said Laura Pisaturo, a Warwick-based attorney, in an e-mail. “This means that same-sex couples in the United States who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.”
Pisaturo, who has been married to her wife, Maria Tocco, since 2007, explained that this is important for same-sex couples and their families because it will impact social security survivor benefits, family medical leave to care for a spouse, veteran spousal benefits, federal tax filings and more.
Pisaturo said “it’s not clear” how this case will impact same-sex couples in states that deny marriage equality “so the advocacy for full marriage equality nationwide must continue.”
Olsen admitted he does not have a legal background but believes that same-sex couples may be able to use this ruling to challenge constitutional bans in their states.
“It still brings a lot of legal questions as to where we go from here [nationally],” said Olsen. “We are fortunate [in Rhode Island because of the marriage equality law].”
As for California’s Proposition 8, a voter initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, Pisaturo explained that because proponents of the measure appealed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision and not California’s government, the Supreme Court did not rule on Hollingsworth vs. Perry on technical grounds.
“The U.S. Supreme Court said that a private party cannot step in to defend the constitutionality of a new state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” said Pisaturo. “As a practical matter, the Hollingsworth case will likely make California the 14th and largest state [including the District of Columbia] to permit same-sex marriage.”
On a personal note, Pisaturo said she and Tocco are hopeful for the future.
“With both of these cases and the passage of marriage equality in 13 states and Washington, D.C. [and soon, California], this really is a watershed moment for equality. Maria and I both hope this momentum continues and, more so, hope recognition of and respect for all loving couples continues,” said Pisaturo.
Governor Lincoln Chafee called the Supreme Court’s ruling “a meaningful, positive development in the long and ongoing story of the United States as the freest country on Earth.”
In his official statement, Chafee says he is pleased that Rhode Island secured passage of marriage equality, and that yesterday’s ruling will extend federal benefits to same-sex married couples in the state.
“I am confident that the push for equality will continue to grow stronger in state houses, court houses and polling places in every state in America. But today’s decision, in the highest court in the land, is a significant victory and no small step forward for our country,” he said.
Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, one of the leaders in the fight for marriage equality in Rhode Island, also released a statement.
“This ruling shows that our nation’s highest court has recognized what I have been advocating for many years: that all citizens are guaranteed equal protections,” said Fox. “This is wonderful news and shows that the march toward equality throughout the land is gaining further momentum.”
Ferri says that he and Caparco knew the decision was coming and that that the Court “would rule in favor of equality.”
“When we get married on August 1 [in Rhode Island], we will also be recognized by the America we love,” said Ferri.