PALM SPRINGS — The only people happier than gay and lesbian couples in California today are the hotel owners, caterers and wedding planners in popular gay tourist destinations like Palm Springs.
Some $166 million dollars will be spent on gay and lesbian weddings over the next three years in the states that allow them, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which studies LGBT issues.
That same study estimates there are 24,000 gay and lesbian couples in California who are ready to get married right now. They were only waiting for Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision which threw out Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage and which gutted DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
During the five months that gay marriage was legal in California in 2008, 617 LGBT couples were married in Palm Springs alone. That’s only a hint of what’s to come. [Editor's note: an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples were married in California.]
And there will also be a personal financial windfall for married gay and lesbian couples. Repealing Section 3 of DOMA ends the government’s practice of depriving LGBT married couples of more than 1,100 federal benefits available to straight couples, including inheriting Social Security payments and filing joint tax returns.
Palm Springs CPA Greg Barton says, “I believe we are going to be able to amend tax returns for gay and lesbian couples going back to 2010.”
Barton and other tax experts are waiting to learn whether filing those amended returns could also apply to registered domestic partners in California, not just those who were married.
But of course Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings weren’t about money. They were about equality.
And, in fact, the ruling on DOMA may be more significant than the ruling on Prop. 8.
That’s because the justices found DOMA to be unconstitutional since it denies equal protection to LGBT Americans.
[Editor's note: Here's the money quote from the majority opinion: "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment."]
In other words, gays and lesbians can’t be discriminated against. That broad and wide-ranging opinion will now be pointed to in other cases that involve gay discrimination in every state for years to come. It is a “gold medal” win for the gay community.
But the Prop. 8 ruling is more of a “bronze medal” win because it only applies to California. Even the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s biggest gay civil rights group, said the Supreme Court’s Prop. 8 ruling reinforces the notion of “two Americas,” one for states that allow same-sex marriages and one for states that don’t.
[Editor's note: Attorney David Boise argued that the ruling denying standing to the plaintiffs in the Prop. 8 appeal meant SCOTUS was effectively admitting that gay marriage does no harm to anyone.]
The nation’s patchwork of different marriage laws also opens the door to more lawsuits. For example, a gay man who legally marries another man in California could move to Texas and marry a woman. Since Texas doesn’t recognize the man’s California gay marriage, wouldn’t both his marriages be legal?
Without a 50-state solution it will be some time before these issues are settled.
But the big picture is clear. California was the grand prize because it doubles the number of Americans who now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. One estimate puts that at 100 million people.
And with a clear majority of Americans now favoring equal rights for gays and lesbians, including marriage, the future couldn’t be more clear.
Hank Plante, is an Emmy and Peabody-winning reporter who covered the Prop. 8 trial for the CBS TV stations in California. He lives in Palm Springs where he serves as Calbuzz Bureau Chief. This piece appears today in the Palm Springs Desert Sun.