On March 26 and 27 of this year, the plaza steps in front of the U.S. Supreme Court were filled with thousands of people as the nine justices heard oral arguments in the two cases dealing with marriage equality. There was a sense of history in the air as Edie Windsor emerged with the entourage of family, friends and lawyers, and made her way down the steps.
Edie Windsor is 83 years old. She met Thea Spyer, the love of her life, in 1967. They were together 40 years when Thea was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and they decided to go to Canada and get legally married. Edie tended to Thea’s care until Thea died 21 months later.
As anyone could well imagine, Edie was devastated by the loss, but then came the tax bill from the IRS for $363,000 on the share of the homes Edie and Thea had bought early in their life together and which Edie had just inherited. For all intents and purposes, the federal government treated Edie and Thea as strangers. That was something Edie could not accept and she filed suit.
In the U.S. v. Windsor, the court is considering whether the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress in 1996, is constitutional. DOMA is the law that prevents the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages, and thus denies legally married same sex couples more than one thousand federal rights and benefits offered to legally married, different-sex couples.
But more than the financial consequences, laws like DOMA and the myriad similar state laws, some of which have been enshrined in state constitutions, lack integrity and violate the principles of justice and freedom. When my partner and I filed our taxes and refinanced our home in Ohio this year, the fact that neither Ohio law nor the federal government recognizes our legal marriage from California made us betray each other when we had to tick the box which reads “single.” It may not seem like much, but it is a constant and not-so-subtle reminder that our relationship has little status and that we are vulnerable.
Edie Windsor commented in an NPR interview the week before the oral arguments, “Marriage… symbolizes commitment and love like nothing else in the world. And it’s known all over the world. I mean, wherever you go, if you’re married, that means something to people, and it meant a difference in feeling the next day.”
As we wait to learn whether the justices will allow the government to continue to treat Edie and Thea as strangers, it has become increasingly clear that the question of marriage equality is no longer if, but when. This isn’t to say it is just going to happen. A change is happening because of people like Edie Windsor, who refuse to be strangers to others, are willing to live their lives with integrity, share their stories, and stand against injustice.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.