Saturday, December 7, 2013
PORTLAND — For Maggie Poisson, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to overturn a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act means she and her wife, Alissa Poisson, will be able to raise their 1-month-old son with the same rights and protections that other parents take for granted.
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
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
Q & A ON THE RULING
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
The couple from South Portland and their baby, AJ, stood Wednesday evening before a jubilant crowd of nearly 100 people at a rally at Portland City Hall celebrating the court's 5-4 decision requiring federal recognition of same-sex marriages, which are legal now in Maine and 11 other states.
"Knowing that we can care for one another and care for our son gives us a peace of mind we didn't have before," said Maggie Poisson.
Wednesday was a historic day for gay rights, as the nation's highest court issued two 5-4 decisions, one sweeping away part of the federal anti-gay-marriage law and the other clearing a legal challenge for same-sex marriages to resume in California.
The Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits that are otherwise available to married couples.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the four liberal justices, said the purpose of the law was to impose a disadvantage and "a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states."
Alissa Poisson, a Portland police officer, said the ruling provides protection under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act if one of them has to leave work for a family emergency.
"If something happens to me, then she could take time off to take care of me," said Alissa Poisson, who carried AJ after he was conceived through artificial insemination.
Two other married women, Annie McPheeters and Meredith Johnson of South Portland, attended the City Hall rally with their baby boy, Calvin. The couple said the ruling means they will no longer have to file state taxes jointly while having to file federal taxes separately.
"Filing tax returns will be so much more simple. We actually had to hire an accountant for the first time ever this year because it was so complex," Johnson said, holding Calvin.
McPheeters and Johnson said the court's decision also adds a layer of security for their family.
"I'm just so happy knowing it finally happened," McPheeters said of the court's decision. "It's also so great that this happened for Calvin. This will be just the way it is for him."
Meanwhile, Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which opposes same-sex marriage, issued a statement Wednesday calling it "truly a tragic day for marriage and for our nation." He called the ruling wrong, saying it "goes against everything human reason teaches us about marriage."
"Marriage between one man and one woman is not the same as same-sex relationships," he said in the statement. "Therefore, treating them differently is not unjust discrimination and should not be ruled as such. If the law does not respect truth, it undermines the common good. Overturning DOMA gravely impacts the institution of marriage and the religious freedoms of those who uphold marriage and its redefinition."
For the most part, Maine leaders applauded the ruling, as did many residents who are affected.
Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said that as recently as two years ago, she would have been surprised to see such a ruling. But when the court issued its decision Wednesday, she wasn't surprised.
"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.
"DOMA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, before I was elected to Congress," Collins said. "Since that time, in 2004 and 2006, I twice voted against amendments to the United States Constitution that would have banned same-sex marriages by pre-empting state laws. I did so because states have traditionally handled family law. I agree with the court's decision that the federal government should not discriminate against couples married in states that choose to legalize same-sex marriages."
Sen. Angus King said: "Today the United States Supreme Court delivered justice to thousands of gay Americans who, although legally married in their home states, have for far too long been wrongly denied the equality they deserve under the law. The landmark ruling represents a significant step forward in ensuring all married couples -- all married couples -- enjoy equal treatment under federal law and have access to all relevant benefits and protections."
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud also issued statements applauding the court's decision.
"DOMA was a bad law to begin with and the Supreme Court did the right thing in striking it down," Pingree said in a written statement. "As voters and legislatures in Maine and states throughout the country have shown, the government has no business telling two people in a loving, committed relationship that they can't get married. Although there is still a long way to go for true marriage equality in all 50 states, as of today the federal government won't be standing in the way of that goal."
Michaud said: "I applaud the justices for striking down the discriminatory ban that prohibits legally married same-sex couples and their children in states like Maine from receiving all of the rights, protections and responsibilities marriage affords. I was proud to speak out publicly for the freedom to marry when Question 1 was on the ballot last year, and I was personally proud to vote 'Yes' to allow all loving, committed couples in our state to obtain a marriage license."
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said his group, which campaigned last fall against same-sex marriage in Maine leading up to the ballot referendum, disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision.
"That opinion assumes states have the right to force a definition of marriage upon the federal government. Most importantly, the court rejected the argument that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage," Conley said. "We believe these decisions leave options open for a continued and vigorous advocacy of traditional marriage on a state-by-state basis. We are committed to continuing to defend the rights of Maine citizens to live by their conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman."
Conley said that his group is committed to "vigorous advocacy for traditional marriage," and also is committed to conducting that debate in a respectful manner.
-- Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller contributed to this report.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:
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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)