Focus on the Court

Focus on the Court: Marriage Equality Edition

Passover has always been a family time for me. It is a time that my siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles come together. We tell stories, argue, eat, complain about what we’re eating – in other words, we do all those things that make us a family.  It is fitting then that this Passover could mark a turning point in the future of what it will mean to be a family for millions of America.

Despite major victories in the past year, and more in just the last week, the majority of states still do not recognize marriages between two people of the same gender. Additionally the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 (see what he says about it today though), prohibits the federal government from recognizing even state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. This injustice means that same-sex couples are not entitled to the same financial rights and responsibilities, custody rights, or immigration privileges (to name just a few) as their heterosexual counterparts. But    tomorrow and Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear two landmark cases that could do much to rectify this inequality.

One case, which will be heard on Tuesday, is Hollingsworth v. Perry and concerns California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, commonly known as Proposition 8. This case concerns whether or not the California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment’s promise of equal protection under the law. Depending on how the Justices rule on this case, marriage equality could be restored in California and the Justices could potentially even declare that the right to marry someone of the same sex is guaranteed to all Americans. The Administration, the Union for Reform Judaism, and many others have all filed briefs supporting marriage equality in this case.

A second case, which will be heard on Wednesday, is Windsor vs. the United States. The Second Circuit court has ruled that Edith Windsor’s rights were violated when she was denied some 300,000 dollars in inheritance money when her wife passed away in 2009. If they uphold this ruling the Supreme Court could declare Article III of DOMA unconstitutional and require the federal government to recognize the rights of legally married same sex couples. After first refusing to defend DOMA during his first term, President Obama’s justice department has filed a brief in support of Edith Windsor. (Check here to see who else has filed briefs… any names sound familiar?).

We can only guess what kind of conversations will be happening around Justice Ginsberg’s, Justice Breyer’s and Justice Kagan’s seder tables this Passover, but what conversations will you have around yours? Think about the ways in which the struggle for equal rights are embedded in the Passover story and the nature of love, community and family described in your own. How will both of those inform your response to these cases and the decisions? How might they motivate your action afterward?

Need help getting that conversation started? Check out this haggadah written by Rabbi Camille Shira Angel from Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.

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About Benny Witkovsky

Benny Witkovsky is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, he is from Madison, WI, and recently graduated from Vassar College.

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