|Richmond Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond, VA|
by Josh Langdon, e-mail josh@GLUEamerica.org
Studying the law has given me the opportunity to examine how our laws affect my life and the lives of other LGBT Americans, and I've noticed a trend- most inequalities we face is due to the fact that we cannot get married. Whether it be no spousal benefits or higher taxes, the rights of marriage are still understated by most people. With various ways to deal with gay and lesbian couples, even the states can't agree on the rights of marriage.
States that recognize "gay" marriages may not offer gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as "marriage" because of DOMA. Other states offer some rights in civil unions or domestic partnerships, but even those rights are sometimes withheld because of the confusing and differing language the law uses instead of "marriage". Then, there are states like Ohio that don't recognize any union other than those between men and women. People who live in states like Ohio are forced to go through extra hurdles, whether it be battling a partner's less than welcoming family over visitation and burial rights or battling the state over legal recognition.
In most states, a gay person is legally considered a "non-blood relative" rather than a "spouse". This distinction alone places an undue burden on gay and lesbian couples. For example, look at Ohio's estate administration law:
For dates of death on or after March 18, 1999, if the decedent's creditors will not be prejudiced and the probate estate consists of property of a gross value of $35,000, or less, the estate may be released from administration. When the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary, and the probate estate consists of property of a gross value of $100,000, or less, the estate may be released from administration.A surviving partner of a gay or lesbian person must hire a lawyer and pay exorbitant fees and taxes if their deceased partner's estate is worth $35,001, but a heterosexual "spouse" has an extra $65,000 before going through the same troubles. Both are suffering from the loss of a loved one, but the gay or lesbian person also has to worry about additional requirements and hurdles.
This is just one of many examples that illustrates the perhaps ignored "rights" that are associated with the word "marriage". Recently, Garden State Equality and seven same-sex couples filed a suit in New Jersey alleging that the state's "everything but marriage" civil unions law treats gay and lesbian couples unequally.
Their main argument is that the state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that same sex couples should be guaranteed the same rights as heterosexual married couples, but in a 4-3 vote left it up to the Legislature how to achieve that. The minority in that decision said the state needed to allow marriage for same-sex couples. The Legislature chose civil unions instead, which come with the exact same legal rights.
But plaintiffs said the legal rights are only equal only in theory. They offered stories about trying to visit their partners in hospitals or make medical decisions for them, but being initially denied by staff who did not understand what a civil union was.
Daniel Weiss, for instance, had to show doctors his civil union ring to show that he could make medical decisions for his long-time partner, John Grant, after Grant was struck by a car and his skull shattered in Manhattan. Despite explaining it to attending doctors, the hospital called Grant’s sister up from Delaware – four hours away – to make medical decisions for him.
When will the inequalities finally be addressed?
The law isn't fair. Period. And President Obama can't say that same-sex marriages are "best addressed by the states" anymore. I noted in an earlier post that Obama could make marriage equality a wedge issue in 2012, and I think bringing simple legal rights to voters' attention could help him in that effort.
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