Edie Windsor lost the love of her life in 2009. They had been together for more than 40 years. They were partners and best friends. They shared everything and honored their responsibilities to one another. Yet, in the eyes of federal law, their marriage was viewed as separate and unequal.
Edie and her late wife, Thea Spyer, are two of millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans denied their fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with their families. When Thea passed away, Edie was billed more than $363,000 in federal taxes — because, under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government treated her and Thea as complete strangers, thereby denying them the estate tax protections afforded to married couples.
With an unaffordable tax bill and an untenable system, Edie could not remain silent, and she decided to challenge DOMA as a violation of our Constitution. Thankfully, she is not alone.
Citizens across the country have risen up to challenge DOMA, and on Wednesday I will proudly join two of those Americans, my constituents Karen Golinski and Amy Cunninghis, to hear oral arguments before the Supreme Court. They have the support of President Obama, who ordered his administration to stop defending this measure in our legal system, and members of Congress, who have signed amicus briefs reaffirming our belief in marriage equality.
The only national leaders still standing on the wrong side of history are House Republicans, who have used taxpayer dollars to pay outside counsel to defend discrimination. The Republican-approved lawyers have lost in every case and appealed each ruling. So the fight goes on.
Wednesday, Edie’s case will come before the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, justices heard oral arguments on Proposition 8 — the measure that banned same-sex marriages in California.
In both cases, the justices will hear compelling stories of love, commitment and family. They will be asked to consider the individual facts of each argument alongside broader questions of DOMA and Prop. 8’s constitutionality. They will confront values and issues as old as our republic: matters of justice and civil rights, fairness and the role of government, equality and equal protection under the law.
The court’s conclusion must be firm and clear: DOMA and Prop. 8 are unconstitutional. Neither measure meets the standards of our founding principles. Both deserve to take their rightful place in the dustbin of history.
The proponents of laws against marriage equality have long known that such laws would not pass constitutional muster or withstand judicial review as demonstrated by their efforts to preclude judicial review. In 2004, the Republican-controlled House passed the so-called Marriage Protection Act to try to prevent federal courts from ruling on challenges to DOMA. They even claimed that the landmark case, Marbury v. Madison, was “wrongly decided.”
Their idea, known as “court-stripping,” betrays one of the cornerstones of our system of checks and balances: that our judiciary must be independent, free from manipulation by Congress and the president, so that our Constitution and individual rights are always safeguarded. Indeed, defending individual rights and equal protection are core functions of judicial review.
Those rights are at stake in the DOMA and Prop. 8 cases. It is clear that there is no legitimate federal or state government interest in discrimination. Under any standard or by any degree of judicial review, there is no justification for laws against marriage equality.
Both DOMA and Prop. 8 were enacted with motives ranging from “majoritarian prejudice or indifference.” Attempts have been made by proponents of these laws to justify them on erroneous and deeply offensive stereotypes. Yet prejudice — whether motivated by animus or indifference — does not make it right for LGBT families to be punished, stigmatized, or denied their rights.
By overturning DOMA, we will ensure that spousal benefits are provided to the husbands, wives and partners of LGBT service members and veterans. We will strengthen our economy by delivering tax deductions and employee benefits to same-sex couples, in the private sector and the federal workforce. By overturning Prop. 8, California can join the march of states across the country extending the rights and responsibilities of marriage to LGBT Americans.
For Edie Windsor and millions like her, the journey has been long, hard, and defined too often by stigma, injustice and inequality. For all Americans, the fight for civil rights has been a defining cause for our country. With the Supreme Court’s action, that journey and that fight can once again bear the fruits of progress. We can bend the moral arc of history once more toward justice and secure a future of equality for all American families. Today, I hope justice prevails for Windsor and for all LGBT Americans.
Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House, is the House Democratic Leader and has represented San Francisco in Congress for 25 years.