How DOMA and Prop. 8 Impact Gay Citizens of Utah, North Carolina, and Twenty-one Other States (Amicus Brief Filed by Utah Pride and CSE)

Dean Tingey lives and blogs from North Carolina. He has one child. His father said Dean had a restless mind. Variations of “Restless Mind” were already taken by other bloggers. Since Dean is a person and a noun is a person, place, or thing, he named the blog A Restless Noun. His writings and photography focus on people, pets, places, things, and thoughts. He is gay. That is a topic in many but not all of his postings.

I read the message on my phone twice to make sure it really said what I thought it said. It is not often my home state of Utah and my adopted state of North Carolina make news together. It is even less frequent that something positive about gay rights comes from the two states. This message from the Center for Southern Equality (CSE) made me proud of my Utah and North Carolina connection.

“CSE is excited to share that we’ve had the opportunity to work on an amicus brief that has just been filed in support of both the “Prop 8″ and “DOMA” cases. . .

This brief is unique in that it speaks to the experiences of LGBT people across the South and in other states where we are treated as second-class citizens. The Utah Pride Center is the brief’s lead author and Meghann Burke, who heads up CSE’s Legal Team and practices law in Asheville, assisted with the brief, as did CSE’s staff.

The brief asks the Supreme Court to extend the fundamental right to marry to gay and lesbian Americans in all 50 states. It speaks to the experiences of LGBT Americans in a majority of states – including the entire South – where systems of entrenched legal discrimination in all spheres of life treat LGBT people as second-class citizens. Using the case study of Utah, the brief shines light on the human consequences of such discrimination and urges the Court to dismantle unjust systems of laws across the country.”

I downloaded the brief and started reading. The arguments were straightforward (no pun intended):
•The laws in many states are demeaning to gay Americans. They force public schools to denigrate and endanger gay children. They harm same-sex parents and their children. They prohibit couples of the same sex from marrying.
•Gay citizens were powerless in keeping these laws from being passed. They remain powerless in overturning these laws.
•Supreme court intervention is needed to end legal denigration of gay citizens.

The brief describes the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Proposition 8, and other anti-gay legislation on the lives of gay people. Here are some excerpts:

Page 2

“The ultimate question before this Court is whether gay Americans must continue to live as second-class citizens.”

“Too many laws throughout the United States say to gay Americans: You are not equal”

Pages 2-3

“At every state of life – from the moment a child has an inkling of being gay, through adolescence, adulthood, and sometimes beyond the grave – gay Americans are haunted by laws that deny the existence of gay people, demean them as lesser human beings, deprive them of fundamental rights, and denigrate their lives and familial relationships.”

Page 6

“Whether they are already conscious of their sexual orientation or are not yet aware of their identity, gay children enter schools that by law cannot affirm their identities. Instead, gay children receive a different lesson: You are not normal. You are not welcome and we cannot protect you.”

Page 8

“Utah’s system of laws thus ensures that gay students may never hear a school- or state-sponsored message such as ‘you are not alone,’ ‘you didn’t do anything wrong,’ and you are valued ‘just the way you are.’ Rather, the official state message is exactly the opposite: You are not valued. You are lesser than your straight peers.”

Page 15

“The message to gay couples is brutal: You can’t be trusted to raise children together.”

Page 17

“Bans on adoption by same-sex couples also penalize children because their parents are gay. By law, these laws make these children partially illegitimate – a disfavored outcome under any circumstance.”

Page 18

“Children being raised by same-sex couples are thus deprived of the stability and benefits of having two legally recognized parents. This legal deprivation can affect every aspect of a child’s life. These children must live with the specter of misfortune looming over their lives, as the death or disability of the legally recognized parent could cause a child to lose not just one but both parents.”

“Certain states may still wish to deter or prevent gay people from forming legally recognized families, but the reality is that gay Americans have families, spouses, and children. (. . .there are approximately 125,000 same-sex couples raising nearly 220,000 children in the United States.)

Page 19

“The keystone of existing systems of de jure denigration of gay Americans is the denial of the right to marry. It is both the crux of the matter and the root of other forms of legal discrimination against gay citizens. The heartbreaking message to committed gay couples: Your love is unworthy of marriage.”

Page 21

“Yet if a married gay service member were to die off-base, the surviving spouse could be treated as a stranger by state law. The surviving spouse could even be denied control over the remains and funeral rites.”

Page 22

“Gay Americans were not able to prevent the enactment of laws that demoted them to second-class citizenship, and they now lack both the political power and the realistic prospect of attaining full equality through democratic process.”

Page 28

“This Court should embrace its constitutional responsibility as a co-equal branch of government to enforce the rights of gay citizens in every state.”

Page 30

“Fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees should not depend on residency in certain states. This Court has a proud tradition, acquitted by history, of deploying heightened judicial review to protect targeted minority groups from majoritarian abuse. All gay Americans – and not just those fortunate enough to live in certain communities or states – are entitled to equal protection and due process of law.”

I thought back to almost a year ago when I received a strong premonition that I should have a gay partner. That premonition is what led me to come out of the closet. That was a scary experience. I am in my fifties.

I wondered what my friends and family’s reactions would be. I was surprised that almost half already knew I was gay even though I had not dated or been part of any gay scene. I was also surprised that everyone who I spoke with said my coming out and possibly having a partner would not change our friendship.

I thought back to the years in junior high when some people called me a “fag.” I did not know what that meant, but I knew it did not sound good. I had a recent conversation with a friend from school and asked if they realized then that I was gay. That friend did not, but they remembered other students speculating that I was gay. Among the reasons for our classmates to speculate – I was “nice,” “funny,” and ”polite.”

I thought of a teenager in Utah who recently committed suicide. He was described by friends in the news reports as “friendly,” “nice,” and “funny.”

I came out around the time that North Carolina passed its anti-gay marriage amendment. Some people wanted to talk with me to learn how anti-gay laws could affect me. Every conversation with someone who voted for the amendment revealed that they were not aware of the full impact of the amendment. It included provisions they did not feel were just.

Other discussions revealed that people were not aware that people in North Carolina could be fired for being gay. I met a gay person who lost his job for no clear reason. All signals pointed to his new boss not liking gays.

I read about one person who worked for a company that allowed him to buy health insurance for his legally married husband. DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing any gay marriage so the cost of the husband’s insurance is taxable income.

Another conversation occurred after the death of Dr. Sally Ride, the astronaut. The other person knew that news reports disclosed Dr. Ride had a lesbian partner for twenty-seven years. He assumed erroneously the couple would have been able to file a joint tax return. He did not feel it was fair that Dr. Ride’s partner would not received any surviving spousal benefits. He felt an exception could be made in her case.

His thought – that an exception could be made so Dr. Ride’s partner could receive benefits – seems to be the thought of many people who support laws that discriminate against gay people. They want laws as a protection against “bad gays,” but they want to be able to make exceptions for “good gays.”

That is not how anti-gay laws work. They hurt all gays. At the same time none of the anti-gay legislation has been proven to help straight people.

I mentioned before that people wanted to talk with me when I came out. Some of those conversations stopped once I began dating. Whether you think the above impacts are unfair or just, I do not think understanding can occur when we are not talking. I hope some of those conversations can resume. People are being hurt every day due to legalized anti-gay discrimination.