June 27, 2013

Many in Maine applaud gay rights ruling

They say it's only fair same-sex married couples get the same benefits as heterosexual married couples, but the state's Catholic bishop calls it 'truly a tragic day.'

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Same-sex supporters gathered at Portland City Hall to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 to give the nation's legally married gay couples equal federal footing with all other married Americans. Supporters (from left) Shannon Tallman, Raminta Moore, Betsy Parsons and Jason Wilkins, all of Portland, listen to speakers at the event.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Chris Kast, a brand strategist at The Brand Co. in Portland, is seen here with a photo of his husband Byron Bartlett on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. They were two of many local residents to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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PORTLAND — While many gay couples and their supporters celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that denied married gay couples federal recognition, the change in federal law will leave many in Maine wondering what it will all mean, practically.

Attorney Catherine Connors, a partner at the law firm Pierce Atwood on Portland’s waterfront, has followed the case closely and said it may be too soon to answer many of those questions.

“The federal system now needs to recognize the states’ adoption of marriage equality,” Connors said.

But how the different states will interact with one another will differ from state to state.

Here are Connors’ answers to some of those questions:

Q: What federal laws are affected by Wednesday’s decision?

A: “There are more than 1,000 federal laws that are related to your marital status, and they are all going to have to get sorted out. President Obama already has his people working on explanations,” Connors said. “All of the rights that you have for regular married people, you will now have in state of Maine for same-sex marriage. You have to look at it law by law.”

Q: Do other states have to recognize a gay couple’s marriage in Maine?

A: “We will wait for another day to find out if a state is going to have to recognize for another state.

That aspect of the Defense of Marriage Act wasn’t stricken down because it wasn’t challenged. This raises a whole host of nuts-and-bolts, day-to-day, what-really-matters-to-people  issues. And they will have to get sorted out one by one,” Connors said.

If Maine says a person in a same-sex marriage is legally married, then the federal government also says that person is legally married. But another state may or may not recognize that same marriage as legal, she said.

Q: Will this change how married gay couples file their taxes?

A: Yes, same-sex couples will soon have the “joy” of filing joint federal tax returns, Connors said, but state taxes could be a different matter. In Maine, where same-sex marriage is legal, married gay couples will now be able file both their federal and state taxes jointly. But in other states, where same-sex marriage is not legal, married gay couples can file federal taxes jointly, but will still have to file state taxes as “single.” The issue gets muddier if someone earns incomes in multiple states.

Q: How will the decision affect other federal benefits?

A: Estate planning: Even in states that recognized same-sex marriages, gay couple often had to do a tremendous amount of work to protect their estates if one person died before the other. “Now it will be simpler,” Connors said.

Military veterans: The spouse of a military veteran in a same-sex marriage will now be eligible for veteran’s benefits, including burial in a national cemetery at a veteran’s side when the spouse dies.

For specific questions, Connors said people should call a telephone hotline set up by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. Specialists trained to answer questions are available at (800) 455-4523 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

People can also submit their questions to the group’s website, www.glad.org/infoline-contact.

– Scott Dolan

"I actually felt this was the way it was going to go," Smith said, "because of the momentum that has been building over the last several years, and some of it is because of what Maine has done and several other states. Maine has really led the way."

In November, Maine voters decided in a statewide referendum to make same-sex marriage legal. The law took effect Dec. 29.

While Smith cheered the court's decision, she said there is still much work to be done in the states that do not recognize gay marriage.

"But for Maine, for California, for all the states that do have marriage, and of course for all the country, it is a great and historic day," said Smith, speaking in the Portland Press Herald newsroom.

Smith, who leads the statewide organization that promotes full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said Wednesday's ruling means that married same-sex couples in Maine will have the same federal protections and benefits as married heterosexual couples. There are more than 1,000 benefits and protections, she said.

Chris Kast of Portland said he was in his office Wednesday at The Brand Company in the Old Port, where he works as a brand strategist, when a friend came in and told him "DOMA's gone."

"I cried," Kast said. "It made me feel really, really good."

Kast, who married Byron Bartlett on Dec. 29 after seven years together, had said before the Supreme Court's decision that he believed the federal law was very outdated, although it was less than 20 years old.

"I thank the wisdom of the majority of the Supreme Court for realizing it's a relic," he said.

Kast said opponents of same-sex marriage realize it does not pose a threat after seeing marriages like his to Bartlett, who was out of town Wednesday.

"The sky's not going to fall, and heterosexual marriages aren't going to melt like glaciers in the Sahara," he said.

Kast said the ruling will not benefit him directly, but comes with the indirect benefit of saying to the whole country that "same-sex marriages are not an abomination."

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who attended the first same-sex marriage in Maine on Dec. 29, also cheered the Supreme Court's decision at the City Hall rally.

"Once again the state of Maine is leading the country, and the country is now following Maine," Brennan said.

The rally was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and was timely for the lead speaker, Jill Barkley of Portland, the group's public-policy advocate. She will marry her girlfriend, Trish Burkholder, in the same room on July 12.

Burkholder now lives in Toronto. The couple has had to live in a long-distance relationship until they are married and Barkley can file immigration papers for Burkholder to move to the United States.

"We are here today to say goodbye to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act," Barkley said to cheers and a round of applause. "I no longer have to choose between the person I love and the country I love."

The ACLU represented Edie Windsor, whose case the Supreme Court considered. Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes after her spouse, Thea Spyer, died in 2009.

Both of Maine's U.S. senators issued statements in support of the Supreme Court's decision, including Sen. Susan Collins, who declined to take a public position on same-sex marriage when the question was pending before Maine voters last year.

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Additional Photos

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Stevie Martin-Chester, left, and his husband of 20 years, Arthur Martin-Chester, from Norristown, attend a rally in support of Wednesday's landmark Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at Independence Mall in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Philadelphia Daily News, Steven M. Falk)

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Members of the LGBT community and their supporters gather to celebrate two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, one to invalidate parts of the Defense of Marriage Act and another to uphold a lower court ruling that struck down California's controversial Proposition 8, during a rally in New York's Greenwich Village, Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

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People wave American and gay pride flags outside the old Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, to celebrate the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act by the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, John Lok)

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From left, Mel Shartrand, Maddyson Maddox and Makayla Maddox hold up gay rights flags during a gathering at Memorial Park to celebrate the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (AP Photo/The World-Herald, )

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Daniel Hicks sits on a pillar with his boyfriend to watch the local crowd celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on two landmark gay rights cases surrounding same-sex marriage on the corner of Piedmont Ave. and Tenth Street in Midtown, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Jaime Henry-White)


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Today's poll: Gay rights ruling

Are you pleased with the Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage?



View Results