States next push for same-sex marriage?

Couples celebrate civil unions in 2011

Couples celebrate outside the Chicago History Museum after same-sex civil unions are legalized in Illinois in 2011. Photo: Liz Thomson

Now that the Supreme Court has made its decision to recognize same-sex marriage at the federal level, UIC scholar John D’Emilio says the next set of hurdles are coming up quick — the states.

The case declared same-sex couples living in the 12 freedom-to-marry states are eligible for the same federal benefits and protections as other married couples, such as Social Security. It also determined federal law must recognize same-sex marriages by states that have legalized them. The case was decided by a 5-4 vote.

In another case challenging California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage, the court’s action means California will again recognize same-sex unions.

“We are living through a long era in which gay people have been challenging what has been considered normal — what is okay,” said D’Emilio, professor of history and gender and women’s studies whose book, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, was referenced in a 2003 Supreme Court case on gay rights.

“That allows a re-thinking of marriage as the union of a man and a woman — it’s a violation of equal protection.”

The landmark case was brought by a woman who had married her partner in Canada. The couple lived in New York; after her partner died, the widow faced heavy federal estate taxes because they were not considered legally married.

“I was just shocked because I didn’t think the court would go that way,” said Joseph Zanoni, director of continuing education and outreach at Great Lakes Center for Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety, who has been in a civil union with his partner, Albert Prieto, since June 2011.

“I’m hoping it will show the legitimacy of our partnership.”

The differences in legal protection for same-sex couples have resulted in legal and financial problems for Zanoni and Prieto.

“The whole thing for us is the health insurance aspect,” said Zanoni, who priority-mailed payments for Prieto’s health insurance to Springfield to make sure his partner stayed on the policy.

Since 2007 UIC employees have been eligible to receive same-sex domestic partner benefits, including health insurance.

“If the check did not reach them, he would be permanently cut off,” Zanoni said.

Because they couldn’t file jointly as married on their federal income tax, they paid an extra $2,000, Zanoni said.

D’Emilio says he believes the court’s decision will provide a path toward same-sex marriage in states now considering the issue, Illinois included.

A same-sex marriage bill backed by Gov. Pat Quinn passed the Illinois Senate in February, but was pulled from the House of Representatives May 31.

“I think there’s a very good chance that the legislature will approve same -sex marriage,” said D’Emilio. “As that happens, it encourages people in the next tier to go forth as well.”

One important question likely to arise as a result of the Supreme Court decision is the legal status of couples married in one state when they move to a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

“I believe that will be the next round of challenges,” said D’Emilio. “Deciding whether or not a couple married in Massachusetts is married in Indiana.”

Both Supreme Court rulings are “limited in their scope,” and many barriers to same-sex marriage still remain, said D’Emilio.

“One of the morals of this story, in this moment of time, is it [change] doesn’t just fall out of the sky,” said D’Emilio.

“People are campaigning to make change.”

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