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Thursday, Oct 02, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Equality means equal rights for everyone

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Published:   |   Updated: June 15, 2014 at 02:56 PM

After living together as a couple for 40 years, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were married in 2007 in Canada. Two years later, Spyer died and left her considerable estate to Windsor. When Windsor tried to claim the estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, she was blocked by the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

That law maintained only a man and woman could be legally married, so even though New York state, where the couple lived, recognized their marriage, the federal government didn’t. Windsor sued, and on June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that under the Fifth Amendment, Windsor had been denied property under DOMA without due process.

The only remedy was to sue, because lawmakers have been sluggish about doing the right thing. The strategy is working.

In the nearly one year since that ruling, judges in 12 states ruled in favor of the freedom to marry. Some of those rulings are being appealed, but while that goes on there are more challenges against the 31 states — including Florida — that deny same-sex couples the basic rights heterosexual married couples have.

They can try to institutionalize bigotry by hiding behind a law, but it’s still bigotry.

Florida has a long history of that.

In 1977, for instance, singer Anita Bryant brought Florida a lot of national attention — not much of it good — with her campaign to repeal a gay rights law in Dade County. The Legislature followed with a law to prohibit adoptions by gays, punctuated by state Sen. Curtis Peterson’s declaration to gays that “we’re really tired of you” and “we wish you would go back in the closet.”

Twenty years later, the Legislature passed its own Defense of Marriage Act. It became law without Gov. Lawton Chiles’ signature. Then, in 2008, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

I understand those who, for religious reasons, just can’t go along with this. If a church wants to refuse same-sex couples the right to wed, so be it. The state, though, has to have a different standard. There’s that whole “liberty, and justice, for ALL” thing.

The state can’t pass laws based on Old, New or any other Testament commands. Frankly, some of the other arguments against marriage equality are absurd.

I was talking recently with a guy who said the Founding Fathers didn’t address this in the U.S. Constitution, so we couldn’t open that (closet) door.

The Founding Fathers overlooked a lot of things — slavery, for one. Women’s rights, for another. As an evolved nation, we fix things that need to be fixed.

Marriage equality needs to be universal, and judges across the land are using the Windsor ruling as a guide to strike down discriminatory laws. Attitudes are changing as well.

In 2004, polls in Florida showed about 65 percent of the state opposed same-sex marriage. In April of this year, a Quinnipiac poll showed 56 percent of the people supported the rights of same-sex couples to marry here.

It’s interesting that many opponents of this issue also shout from the soapbox against government intrusion in our private lives. In other words, they’re all about freedom, except, you know, for “that.”

I would ask them this question: What is more intrusive than the government telling someone who they can or can’t marry?

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