Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Mexico ACLU Statement on Supreme Court DOMA Ruling

Here's a new release I just received concerning the Supreme Court's ruling that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico welcomes the historic overturn of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), the legislation that prevents federal recognition of marriages between same-sex couples, as well as the overturn of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned same-sex couples from marrying in California. The ACLU represented 80-year-old plaintiff Edie Windsor in United States v. Windsor, the case that overturned DOMA, and filed a friend-of-the court brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the lawsuit that overturned Prop. 8.

There are more than 1100 places in federal laws and programs where being married makes a difference—from eligibility for family medical leave, to social security survivor’s benefits, to access to health care for a spouse. Today’s decision will make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of legally married gay couples. Married same-sex couples who live in states that recognize their relationships should now be eligible for these benefits and protections. 

“This is truly a historic moment for basic fairness in the United States,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “DOMA is the last federal law on the books that mandates discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay, and today’s decision takes down its core. It’s a great day for equality and the beginning of the end of official discrimination against lesbians and gay men.“

New Mexico is in a somewhat unique position. Although New Mexico does not yet permit same-sex couples to marry, New Mexico does not bar recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples who legally married in another place.  In addition, the New Mexico Attorney General issued an opinion in 2011 concluding that New Mexico law supports recognition of those marriages and that New Mexico courts likely would rule that those marriages must be respected.  This should mean same-sex couples who are legally married and living in New Mexico are eligible for all federal benefits; however, we cannot know for certain at this time whether the federal government will extend all federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples in New Mexico.

Some New Mexico residents, however, will likely feel immediate effects of the court striking down DOMA, including military personnel and other federal employees. U.S. Army reservist Major Christina Altamirano and her spouse, Jennifer Altamirano, both New Mexico natives, welcomed today’s decision:

“I have served my country for 14 years in the military, including a wartime deployment to Iraq,” said Major Altamirano. “But because of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” my wife and children were treated differently than other military families, denied protections, respect and recognition because we are a same-sex couple. After today’s ruling, I finally feel like the country I defend fully honors and recognizes our family’s service and sacrifice.”

“It has been a struggle for our family because in addition to not receiving the health insurance and other benefits other military families take for granted, the government considered me and my wife strangers,” said Jennifer Altamirano, Christina’s spouse. “If she were to be wounded, killed or captured in the line of duty, the military wouldn’t even let me know.”

The ACLU of New Mexico, along with the national ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, filed a lawsuit on March 21 that seeks to clarify New Mexico’s law regarding marriage for same-sex couples. The lawsuit alleges that under New Mexico’s Constitution, committed and loving same sex couples should already be allowed to marry in our state. Should this suit prove successful, married same-sex couples in New Mexico would enjoy full federal marriage benefits now that DOMA has been removed.