FLORIDA VOICES: What will the Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision mean to Florida?
What will the Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision mean to Florida?
BY: NADINE SMITH
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EQUALITY FLORIDA
This is a watershed moment in the life of our nation. Though we will not know their decision until June, it appears the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to end the federal ban that strips gay married couples of equal status and consequently denies us more than 1,100 federal protections for our families.
Gay married couples, including my wife and I, may no longer be faced with tax forms that require us to lie and deny the existence of our spouse. The financial penalties imposed because we are considered legal strangers can cost us more than $300,000 compared with married heterosexual couples over a lifetime. But now the highest court can act to eliminate this financial burden and erase the indignity of being denied access to full marriage equality. We hold out the hope that the court will go further and "protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority " by striking down all state anti-gay marriage bans.
Regardless of the court's decision, America has fundamentally shifted in these past few days. What had been an ever quickening pace just took a quantum leap forward.
Public opinion is surging in favor of equality, corporations are speaking out on the economic necessity for managing a diverse workforce and elected leaders of both parties are finding common ground in the growing sense of inevitability.
Yet the energy surrounding this court case fills me with equal parts joy and impatience. On the one hand I'm thrilled to see that nationwide 58 percent of Americans now support full marriage equality. In Florida, 75 percent now support providing all of the rights either through marriage or civil union. This shift cannot be overstated when you consider that in 2008 61 percent of Floridians voted to deny access to marriage or anything that provides the equivalent protections.
Even more strikingly, the increase in support is not just driven by new, young voters who are shocked this issue is even still being debated. No, the swift and overwhelming shift toward equality is being driven by longtime voters who are changing their minds because the people close to them are coming out and telling the truth about their lives and the toll discrimination takes, emotionally and financially.
Every movement for equality and social justice has required that those in the majority eventually stand with those of the minority. This will be remembered as the moment when our allies stood up like never before.
While many think discrimination is wrong, they were largely unaware of the routine humiliations inflicted on gay families and the dire consequences to us when we cannot marry. Straight people are astounded to hear that they get more than 1,100 rights when they marry. They've never had to think about them much. But we do. Their absence crosses us constantly in ways that drain our resources, psychologically, emotionally and financially.
The New York Times concluded that banning gay couples from marriage can cost us more than $400,000 over a lifetime compared to our married straight counterparts.
And now corporation are raising their voices publicly, signing onto the marriage equality amicus brief, issuing ads that riff on the red equal sign meme on Facebook. They are speaking out because they're living the logistical nightmare of trying to navigate a national workforce across a patchwork of varying legal recognitions. How do you ask a top executive to move her family to a place where her marriage is not recognized and therefore her rights as a parent are precarious? Do you offer hazardous duty pay?
Elected leaders of both parties are stepping forward to support marriage equality. In just 48 hours, five Democratic senators announced their support of marriage equality. In Florida, Republican Congresswoman Ileanna Ros-Lehtinen joined every Democrat except Sen. Bill Nelson in taking a pro-equality stand.
Family members, coworkers, friends and neighbors are wearing red, coming out as allies on Facebook and finally demanding that our leaders stand with us to guarantee the security and recognition for our families that every family deserves.
Every time we have an honest conversation about our lives and expose the injury that discrimination inflicts on us, our loved ones, our friends, and our children, Americans move closer to supporting full equality. And that is why I feel so impatient, even angry. It is humiliating to have to ask to be treated fairly, to beg for the same rights as others. It is humiliating to listen to our lives being sifted through and measured out so that we can wait to see if our full humanity will be finally be recognized.
Gay people in America have endured violence, psychological and religious abuse. We've had our children taken from us, our careers stripped away. We've been run out of town or imprisoned . We've been barred from hospital rooms, denied the right to know where our loved one is buried. We've been lobotomized and tortured. We've been the target of cruel jokes and dehumanizing stereotypes. We've been rejected by our families. Some of us have not survived it. But those of us who have keep fighting, just the way you would for your family. Love is stronger than anything that is thrown at us. We will eventually win recognition of our equality, but I am impatient because every day that is delayed is an injury.
The question has been called: "Which side of history will you choose?" The Supreme Court's answer to that question will be seismic, but the American people's answer is pouring in and they are rushing to choose equal rights over traditional bigotry.
And it is bigotry, make no mistake. Whether it is wrapped in religious garb or hateful stereotypes or just the familiarity of feeling superior to some other group, it is wrong to deny to others what you would insist upon for yourself.
I am in awe of Edie Windsor's courage and persistence in fighting for her marriage. I'm horrified that she has to.
Equality Florida is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.