Publisher’s Perspective: 2013: even better than 2012

By : Tom Dyer
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TomDyerHeadshotBy any measure, 2012 was a good year for the LGBT community nationally, and especially locally. Could 2013 be better? Count on it.

In 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to announce support for marriage equality, and then won four more years in the White House.  For the first time, marriage equality prevailed on a ballot initiative and it happened in four states. Same sex couples can now marry in nine states and the District of Columbia. Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin became the first out member of the U. S. Senate, and part of the largest contingent of openly gay members in congressional history.

Locally, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer launched the city’s Domestic Partner Registry in January, sparking a wildfire of DPRs that swept through Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Gulfport, as well as Orange and Volusia Counties.  Joe Saunders won a decisive victory in a new state house district surrounding UCF, becoming one of the first two openly gay members in the Florida Legislature. (The other was Miami Beach’s David Richardson.)

Out City Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Steve Kornell won re-election in Tampa and St. Pete. Transgender candidate Gina Duncan nearly won a seat on the Orange County Commission. Pride celebrations in St. Pete and Orlando drew record crowds, and Gay Days continued to attract people worldwide to Central Florida hotels and attractions.

Every one of the achievements noted above came about as the result of hard work by activists, campaign workers and supportive elected officials. If you’re one of those who carried the banner during the last decade or so even when progress seemed impossible take a bow.  2012 may prove to have been a tipping point in the journey toward full equality. Understanding and acceptance of the LGBT experience has reached a critical mass, particularly with those under 40. Opposition to full equality is now muted; politicians who advocate thusly sound foolish and mean.

But looking back, the events of 2012 may feel like smaller waves presaging the landscape-changing one coming in 2013. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two landmark cases in which they will decide whether the government can refuse marriage and federal benefits to gays and lesbians. If we win either case, momentum will shift permanently. If we win both, it will be the death knell for the discrimination we have always known.

In one case, the justices will review the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married. Three appellate courts have already ruled that DOMA violates the equal protection clause contained in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The facts of the DOMA case are compelling.  Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old widow and resident of New York, was assessed a $363,000 estate tax bill by the Internal Revenue Service after her spouse, Thea Spyer, died in 2009. The couple married in Canada in 2007 after living together for 44 years.  Spyer left her entire estate to Windsor. Under IRS rules, heterosexuals pay no estate tax on assets inherited from a deceased spouse.

It takes five votes to win, and most court analysts believe the votes exist to overturn DOMA.  Liberal Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan are a lock. Justice Kennedy, a libertarian conservative who is often the swing vote in cases of this kind, wrote the opinions in the courts two strongest gay rights cases: a 1996 case overturning a Colorado referendum repealing municipal gay rights ordinances, and a 2003 case striking down a Texas sodomy law.

In the Colorado case, Kennedy said that the Constitution prohibits laws singling out a certain class of citizens for disfavored legal status or general hardships. He will likely decide that DOMA is such a law. Some think conservative Chief Justice Roberts will agree.  More than 100,000 legally married gays and lesbians would be directly affected by the ruling. But the DOMA decision would not impact those living in the 41 states where same-sex marriage is illegal.

The other case, however, would affect everybody. It involves the constitutionality of California’s Prop 8, the voter initiative limiting marriage to a man and a woman. An appellate court also found that this law violates equal protection. The attorneys who argued against Prop 8 have said they will ask the justices for a broad ruling affirming the fundamental constitutional right to marry of all citizens.

With public opinion shifting in favor of same-sex marriage rights, it’s hard to imagine Justice Kennedy will choose to be on the wrong side of history.

Both cases will be argued before the court later this year, and rulings are expected by June. Prepare to celebrate at St. Pete Pride 2013.

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