How I Kill Time on Summer Afternoons or, Contemplating the Defeat of DOMA

June 27th, 2013

Erica's lily. Picture by Erica on Erica's patio.Obviously, what I do to kill time on summer afternoons is write Okazu posts. Duh~  And play Fruit Ninja.

I’m at that point in my pile where I have nothing left but Novels and Anime, so for the moment, reviews will slow down as I make my way through longer stories. I think it’ll be like this for a bit, as I have an enormous backlog of both and I’m reading and watching as fast as I can in between games of Fruit Ninja. ^_^

So, yesterday, you may have heard that the Supreme Court of the US, wildly inconsistent and intermittently inexplicable as they are, ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. That actually doesn’t change anything for me at the moment. Let me explain – especially for European readers who tend to think of “America” in a same way they think of “Russia” – a large country with central leadership. The USA is really much more like the EU. Yes, there is a central bureaucracy and yes, that central bureaucracy can pass laws and make decisions that apply to all 50 states (countries) in the union but, in the absence of centrally passed laws, each state (country) can pretty much make its own decisions.

States that have legal same-sex marriage (SSM) also agree to recognize SSM from other states that have it. In addition, some – but not all – states with other state-level recognized agreements (Civil Unions, Domestic Partnerships) recognize legal SSM as *marriage,* full stop. But 37 states do not have legal SSM and of those, around 30 have laws that specifically ban same-sex marriage.

So, I live in the country of NJ. In this country, we have Civil Unions. These are meaningless outside our state.  NJ recognizes marriages from New York, but New York does not recognize Civil Unions as anything. Nor does the Federal Government.

Florida does not recognize NJ Civil Unions nor does it recognize marriages from NY. If I fall sick in Florida, my wife can be legally kept out of my room (except that we have medical power of attorney – and they can contest that too.)

What does yesterday’s ruling mean for me? Nothing. I get no new benefits, no recognition, nothing. Unless I get married in a state that recognizes legal SSM. Because yesterday’s ruling changes nothing on the state level. It only changes how the Federal government deals with people who have been legally married in a state that allows it.

For European friends, it’s like getting married in France, then traveling to Italy, and not having any legal relationship at all.

So if you’re not in the US and you don’t really get what’s happening, it’s like this: Things the Federal Government controls, like the military and federal employees, now get benefits, no matter who they are married to – as long as they are legally married in one of the states that has legal SSM. This is very good. In fact, the Department of Defense stated that they would start providing benefits to LGB soldiers who are legally married immediately. (Transgender soldier are still technically banned…a future fight that will be fought and won.) This does not apply to coupleswho have civil unions or domestic partnerships, only marriages.

States (countries) that ban SSM still ban it. They don’t recognize it, either. But even in states that ban it, if a person has a legal marriage from another state, they can apply for benefits provided by the Federal government (like getting a deceased spouse’s Social Security benefit.) Immigration will also change. SS partners ought to find themselves treated like opposite sex partners now. In fact, a judge stopped a deportation proceeding against a man’s Colombian partner immediately after the decision. That is also an objectively good thing.

I just wanted to take a moment and unpack the decision, so non-US folks understand why I and many others are still not satisfied. Not until there is Federal level decision that requires all 50 countries to recognize my relationship. ^_^ Expect to see a lot more weddings in states that have legalized them this summer – people need to do what they can to protect themselves and their families. This is merely a step forward. There’s a lot more to do. More than half of the states prefer to treat LGBTQ folks as second-class citizens…for the moment.

So there you have it. My thoughts on this summer afternoon. And no review. I promise to get back to watching stuff shortly. ^_^

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10 Responses

  1. For the record, that lily is growing on my patio. It was a present from a client.

  2. Christina says:

    The analogy of the US as the EU isn’t really accurate. It is accurate enough for this specific issue, but it still overlooks that the US have the core function of a state, territorial sovereignty upheld by a military and unified foreign policy, while the EU does not. Similarly the US is far more culturally unified than the EU having both a self-understanding as a nation and a shared public, two things the citizen of EU memberstates emphatically do not. This also shows in how the US is governed by directly elected representatives of the various states comprising the nation, whereas the two most powerful of the three governing bodies of the EU are directly appointed by the governments of the memberstates.

    That said, I do agree that Europeans tend to underestimate the extend of American federalism, especially as it applies below the state level. The idea of a city being able to pass laws is plainly ludicrous in Europe and is to my knowledge not something any European nation allows. Not just that, in the fields where the EU does hold authority over its memberstates it tends to reach further and shape legislation more intensively than the American federal government, just like there are more aspects of domestic policy that are covered by the EU than the American federal government.

    I guess that all this just comes down to me feeling that my continent and it’s incredibly convoluted political system gets misunderstood too often by Americans. It just seems like Americans completely overlook how much the European nations define themselves in opposition and competition with each other and how much old rivalries and grudges still shape European politics, along with the simple fact that the EU is considered foreign politics over here.

    A better analogy for the US would probably be other federations such as Germany and Russia, though I’ll admit to not knowing any federal states as loosely united as the US.

    • I was speaking in terms of this specific issue, but yes, you are correct. ^_^ States often have grudges – in fact, it was state-level grudges that kept Congress from approving Sandy aid for more than 2 months, when previous hurricane aid was approved in no more than 10 days.

    • Robin says:

      In respect to cities having lawmaking powers Switzerland stands out; it’s a federation of 26 city states each of which have extensive law making powers (including full control of taxation, which is one of the USAs major oddities). It’s a better comparison than the EU.

      UK councils can enact byelaws, although they have to be delegated the right to do so, and must still then be passed by central government.
      Devolution has also led to the UKs member countries having extensive lawmaking powers.

      Essentially USA laws are done from the bottom up, with the larger bodies (states, federal government) having the power to overrule the smaller. For most of Europe it’s the other way round, smaller bodies must be explicitly delegated power as per feudalism.

      The EU is strange, it’s essentially delegated to be our supreme court, control tax codes and trade law, do environmental regulation, and offer funds for redevelopment projects and some of social security. It has absolute power in a very small range of topics and none elsewhere, even in closely linked areas, e.g. controlling tax codes, but having no say in taxation.

  3. dm00 says:

    If you were to cross the border and get married in New York, you’d then be legally married, and even New Jersey would recognize that, yes, and so would the Social Security Administration? It still wouldn’t help in Florida hospitals, I guess.

    That hypothetical New York wedding would presumably also satisfy the IRS w.r.t. joint filing, I imagine? Or does the New Jersey Civil Union take care of that?

    Happy about DOMA. Really, really pissed about the Voting Rights Act and most of the rest of the Supreme Court’s week.

    • The NJ civil union does not affect our IRS status, but a NY marriage would. NJ civil unions only affect our NJ tax status. And if we were married in NY, both NJ and IRS would recognize us as married now. Neither of those affect our status in Florida where we have the same legal standing as two friends who travel together and no more.

  4. Andrew says:

    The DOMA repeal might be more relevant to your situation than you think. New Jersey has civil unions because of a state Supreme Court case, Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415; 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006).

    That case held that same-sex couples need to be treated equally under New Jersey law, but allowed the state legislature to accomplish it with civil unions. Now, there has been an ongoing challenge to the sufficiency of civil unions for a while now, but with DOMA gone that means the plaintiffs can point to the thousand+ federal marriage benefits as inequalities between marriages and civil unions, so their case just became much easier.

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