CHARLES TOWN – In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is unconstitutional to deny federal benefits to same-sex married couples, Delegate Stephen Skinner says provisions of state employment and housing law are now open to legal challenge.
[cleeng_content id="881033473" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, last month, saying both that it constituted both federal overreach into affairs that are the states’ domain and that it violates the Equal Protection Clause.
“They could have easily sidestepped any issue related to sexual orientation by just talking about states’ rights,” Skinner said, explaining that, since the court instead ruled on equal protection grounds, many other laws may now be open to legal challenge.
“No question about it,” he said. “It means that, ultimately, any test of denial of rights based on sexual orientation or targeting gay people will be subject to equal protection scrutiny. We’ll see over the next five to 10 years, the implications of that.”
Skinner indicated that the state is unlikely to move quickly to recognize same-sex marriage. Current state laws surrounding employment and housing are more pressing and more constitutionally untenable, he argues.
“I’m more concerned right now about employment and housing protections for LGBT West Virginians. Most people don’t even realize that it is legal to fire someone just because they are gay,” he said. “Right now that is something that I think is more important for us to work on.”
Skinner says the DOMA ruling will have a positive impact on the lives of many West Virginians.
“DOMA was a law that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage,” Skinner said. “There are approximately 1,100 benefits and responsibilities conferred on married people under federal law. So DOMA prevented those being applied equally.”
These the right to receive a spouse’s Social Security benefits after their death and the right to tax-free inheritance of a spouse’s estate.
Skinner said the DOMA ruling will have an immediate positive impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered West Virginians who have been legally married in other states.
“For so many people, including couples in West Virginia that have been married in other states, this is going to have a real-world effect on their lives,” he said. “There are same-sex married couples in Jefferson County – some of whom may be married without other people even knowing it – and this is going to affect them.”
“And, importantly, the ruling means that there is justice for everyone, not just most people,” he said. “Every day we stand up in the legislature and we say the ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ and it specifically addresses ‘liberty and justice for all.’ This really is a testament to that – that there is justice for all.”[/cleeng_content]