The Ayes of Love

United States Supreme Court June 26 DOMA ruling inspires Idaho's same-sex couples


Gloria Mayer says she will finally get around to flying her rainbow windsock. A few weeks before the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act--paving the way for equal treatment of legally married same-sex couples under federal law--Mayer told Boise Weekly that she was reluctant to fly the windsock (BW, Feature, "The Patchwork Rainbow," June 12, 2013).

"I'm afraid to," she told BW.

The Pocatello grandmother spoke of her fear as half of a lesbian couple living in a state that does not afford them protection from sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination. The fear, she said, cast a blanket of trepidation over the revelation of her identity in the press. As a result, Mayer said she kept the rainbow windsock out of plain sight.

That was then. Change has since swept through the lives of the couple and Idahoans across the state.

Mayer's hometown of Pocatello passed a citywide anti-discrimination ordinance in June, joining seven other Idaho cities in granting some form of LGBT anti-discrimination protections. Then the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 26 that the federal government cannot discriminate against same-sex married couples for the purposes of determining benefits.

Now out of the closet, Mayer proudly says she's still madly in love with the woman she met nearly two decades ago. And neighbors now catch a glimpse of more color as they drive past Mayer's Pocatello home.

"The rainbow windsock hangs along with the wind chimes, just because we can," Mayer said.

The home's aesthetic isn't all that's about to change for Mayer and her partner. The SCOTUS ruling may mean a second wedding ceremony--this time with all the legal pomp that comes with saying "I do," in the state of Washington. Mayer and her partner were previously wed in a non-legal commitment ceremony in Pocatello.

Advocates remind Mayer and other Idahoans they still have a battle to wage for equality on the Idaho homefront. Activists say they'll return to the Idaho Statehouse in 2014 to, once again, add the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

"We're just like [the state legislators]," said Mayer. "We pay the bills, we pick up the kids, we come home. If we're lucky, we have an hour to watch TV. We're even boring, just like them."

Even the U.S. Supreme Court's majority says married same-sex couples are just like every other married couple.

"But I still have a lot of questions. I want to know what will happen," said Heide Harm, who joined her partner, Abby Wolford, at an American Civil Liberties Union SCOTUS ruling celebration dinner on June 27.

"It's hopeful, but it's also confusing," Wolford said.

The ruling may radically change Wolford and Harm's life together. They're planning their future a bit differently--at least when it comes to ceremonies and paperwork. The SCOTUS ruling has the couple thinking about a Washington wedding but leaves them wondering what the marriage certificate would mean once they return home to Boise.

"It looks a lot like that Facebook status: 'It's complicated,'" Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, told celebrants. "As we work through the decision, the ACLU will untangle more than 1,100 places in federal laws and programs where being married makes a difference--and figure out what that means for same-sex Idahoans who were legally married in some states."

Amid a flurry of questions June 26, celebrants said they held tight to what they called "a deeper meaning" of the Supreme Court's decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8, clearing the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California.

"[The DOMA] ruling is momentous for Edie Windsor and for all the loving, married same-sex couples and their families across the nation," Hopkins said. "DOMA is the last federal law on the books that mandates discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay."

It was a lawsuit, lodged by Windsor, that precipitated the Supreme Court ruling, when she said the U.S. government failed to recognize her marriage and survivor benefits from her deceased partner, Thea Spyer. The couple met in the early 1960s and married in 2007. Spyer died in 2009 and left all of her property to Windsor, but because the federal government did not recognize same-sex marriages, Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes--a bill that she would not have owed if she were married to a man.

"At least to some extent, it's not complicated: We win," ACLU of Idaho attorney Ritchie Eppink told couples, advocates and allies June 26.

"But just because we win, we do not get to do whatever we want, where we want to," he said, noting how the DOMA ruling and the more than 1,100 rights and responsibilities impacted by the decision touch the lives of Idahoans depends on how agencies apply the Supreme Court decision.

Meanwhile, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted the SCOTUS ruling and ultimate demise of DOMA does not directly impact Idaho law, which--by state constitutional amendment--does not recognize same-sex marriage.

"Yes, we have a dual sovereign system and in the [SCOTUS] cases that came down, it would not directly affect existing Idaho law," Hopkins said. "However, it directly affects legally married same-sex couples."

How Idahoans feel about the impact of the DOMA decision depends on what agencies recognize as a valid marriage. The Social Security Administration, for example, has looked to the state laws where a person lives or place of residence as the determinant of a valid marriage. Others, including immigration agencies, have looked to where a couple got married, or place of celebration. Legally married same-sex Idahoans may get access to some, but not all federal rights and benefits. What rights Idahoans enjoy and what responsibilities they're now obligated to under law--whether it be estate tax exemptions, marriage penalty taxes, dual income reporting on federal student loan applications or Social Security benefits--still remain somewhat ambiguous as agencies sort out their rules and regulations under the DOMA decision.

"That will continue for some time. And I suspect that there will be little battles fought in each of these agencies by various advocacy groups and positions getting them to do X, Y or Z, because when they change their rules, it has to go through a process--including public comment," Eppink said.

Human-rights activists have characterized the SCOTUS rulings as the LBGT civil-rights movement's equivalent of the Voting Rights Act, Emancipation Proclamation or gathering at Seneca Falls. But they say battles are yet to be won.

"As a movement, this was huge," said former journalist and human- rights advocate Steve Martin, who works as regional development organizer for the Pride Foundation."But there was this moment where we said, 'This isn't over yet. We still have to fight. Idaho should not ignore that we are not going away.'"

The contrast between the Supreme Court rulings and the habits of the Idaho Legislature were not lost on attendees of a June 27 celebration dinner at Boise State's Smoky Mountain Pizza, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court DOMA ruling.

"I have many friends who are gay and here today and I am happy to celebrate with them. I just wish our lawmakers would get on the side of history," said Linda Crozier.

"It's time to add the words and make marriage legal in all 50 states," said her same sex partner husband, Terry Crozier. "Marriage is one thing, but it's nice to have housing and a job and feel safe."

Idaho lawmakers have refused to add the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act for seven consecutive years; and, last month, the Idaho GOP voiced its firm opposition to granting non-discrimination protections to Idahoans in a central committee resolution that urged lawmakers to enact legislation that voids municipal nondiscrimination ordinances.

Stephanie Steele has endured the wounds of this battle--from the scars of discrimination to the pain of exclusion from her partner's medical decisions. She sees the SCOTUS rulings as a healing point and a wake-up call.

"There is a move within the country toward equality," she said. "Idaho can drag its feet and be one of the last one to the party, but the party is coming."