Cheers erupted from the anxious onlookers as the Supreme Court’s decision was met with high approbation. After decades of passionate advocacy and divisive political rhetoric, the case was finally closed — marriage is a right granted to all couples in the United States. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to rectify years of misrepresentation of the Constitution.
Many never imagined this day would come, especially for states like Missouri and Kansas, where a supermajority of conservatives dominate the state legislatures. Even with wins in state court declaring bans on marriage equality unconstitutional, both states waded in uncertain waters and did not join the 36 others where same-sex couples were allowed to wed.
That did not keep people from showing their true mettle. Both Kansans and Missourians came together to laud the decision at a celebratory gathering in downtown Kansas City, where LGBT people and allies cheered on speakers touting the landmark accomplishment.
Mayor Sly James, a well-known advocate for LGBT issues, also joined the celebration. Donning his signature bow tie, he snapped selfies with supporters and congratulated them on their new freedom to love.
Supporters rallied all across Missouri with celebrations in St. Joseph, Springfield, Columbia and St. Louis.
This battle has been a long journey with lots of tears and many hiccups. Missouri passed by a popular vote one of the first constitutional bans on marriage equality in 2004. Spanning a decade the fight for marriage equality is finally over, but the fight for true equality still looms.
More than a moral victory
SCOTUS’ decision marks not only a prominent step forward for American civil rights, but a propitious financial gain for many LGBT couples living in the 13 states, like Missouri and Kansas, where marriage equality was still blurred.
For starters, LGBT couples were exempt from accessing Social Security (SS) benefits granted to couples legally wed. If two partners received SS and one earned a higher benefit than the other, the lower earner can now increase his or her benefit to half of what the higher earner receives.
That increases the average couple’s earnings by almost $800 per month according to a report by The Human Rights Campaign. That’s roughly $10,000 a year that LGBT couples were denied before this ruling. For a couple living on fixed, tight incomes, this will have a significant impact on their quality of life.
Another benefit now available to all couples in the U.S. through SS is a surviving spouse benefit. This allows a grieving partner to receive the amount of SS their spouse received if it was higher than theirs. This was designed to relieve surviving partners of the financial burden of shifting to a single-income household.
Filing taxes for LGBT couples may also come with a financial reward. In a state like Kansas where LGBT couples were forced to file separately, it’s estimated that some of them lost out on hundreds of dollars of tax relief that legally wed couples enjoyed. Those couples can now file jointly both federally and with the state.
Tax experts warn, however, that this won’t be the case for everyone. They say high earning couples who earn similar amounts will likely pay a higher rate due to a higher tax bracket. Even if it doesn’t save money, it saves time with a streamlined filing process. LGBT couples filing in Kansas no longer have to file 5 documents to legally comply with the federal and state tax laws. Kansas has started accepting amended returns as reported by Equality Kansas.
Inheritance is also another way LGBT couples have been financially penalized by states refusing to pass marriage equality. For a married couple, inheriting your deceased partner’s property and financial assets is a given. The property of the deceased is automatically transferred to the surviving spouse if not otherwise dictated in a will.
Since LGBT couples in those states were not legally recognized as married, the property of their deceased partner was not automatically deemed theirs. It would go to the next of kin. This forced LGBT couples to pay a lot of money to ensure their property and estates would go to their partners.
Many couples who were not able to pay for lawyers to form trusts, risked everything going to an unsupportive family member. To add to the pain, LGBT couples who were able to pay were subject to a large inheritance tax that straight couples did not have to pay. Thankfully, those worries are over.
As expected, there was both passionate applause for the historic decision and lament from a conservative base who views the decision as an attack on American tradition. Nobody understands this better than those who reside on opposite sides of the Kansas/Missouri border.
On Tuesday, July 7 Gov. Jay Nixon issued Executive Order 15-04 instructing all government agencies, bureaus and commissions to comply with the Supreme Courts’ marriage decision, including updating all forms and procedures to ensure they are inclusive to the LGBT community.
The order specifically commands, “all counties, municipalities and other political subdivisions [to] ensure that the Obergefell decision is implemented in all applicable operations.” All state-funded offices in the business of marriage must recognize that same-sex couples are entitled to all marriage-related benefits and services that straight couples enjoy.
LGBT advocates praised Nixon for his leadership, while others used his executive order to decry his actions and demand protections for a minority of religious people who oppose same-sex marriage. These folks were likely wishing they were in Kansas.
Shortly after Nixon issued his executive order, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued his own, outlining stark differences in leadership and positioning on the issue of marriage equality.
Brownback reinforced a religious organization’s ability to decline service for a same sex wedding, which has been the policy in Kansas and Missouri for years.
He then took it a step further by issuing, “The State Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization that provides social services or charitable services, which acts or intends to act upon sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
Homeless shelters, adoption agencies, food banks and organizations alike have the ability now to discriminate against LGBT clients and refuse them service. Equality Kansas quickly responded and demanded, Brownback “faithfully execute the duties of the Governor,” and direct every state agency to immediately and fully comply with the rulings of the United States Supreme Court.”
Brownback will likely temporize the implementation of the Obergefell decision for as long as he can, but there are not many avenues he can still pursue. As reported by PROMO, Missouri’s largest statewide organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, all counties in Missouri are now issuing marriage licenses to all couples. All counties in Kansas are also complying with the Supreme Court ruling.
If you have any trouble from state agencies regarding marriage-related issues, please contact either PROMO or Equality Kansas for guidance.
With such a momentous victory now behind us, it’s important more than ever to look ahead and imagine where we want society to be five years from now. There are still an incredible amount of hurdles that face the LGBT community and that some would consider more important than marriage equality.
Put simply, you can still be fired for being gay or transgender in Missouri and Kansas. Nixon reiterated this point and stated, “Same-sex couples now have the right to get married, but here in Missouri, individuals can still be fired for being gay. That’s wrong, it’s not who we are – and it must change.”
Both Missouri and Kansas have been fighting for years to pass a nondiscrimination law inclusive of the LGBT community that would grant employment, housing and public accommodation protections.
Transgender Kansans and Missourians suffer greatly for being who they are. Trans individuals are more likely to be unemployed, homeless, unable to receive necessary health services, living in poverty, a victim of a violent crime and suffering from suicidal thoughts. Those outcomes worsen for trans people of color.
This stems from society’s misunderstanding and stigmatization of the trans community. Many trans youth face barriers to education, extracurricular activities and sports because their school policies are not up-to-date with best practices and standards. Simply put, we can do better.
Lastly, prejudice within the LGBT community remains unchecked. LGBT people of color in Kansas City do not feel connected to the rest of the community and do not feel safe in the LGBT spaces in town. We idolize this idea of the muscular, wealthy, masculine and white male, which skews our understanding of what, is attractive, successful and healthy. We need a greater commitment to diversity that prioritizes inclusivity of the entire LGBT community and works to breakdown the borders that separate us.
PHOTO: Randall and Justin got engaged last November while riding the ferris wheel in Budapest, Hungary. They’re planning to get married in October 2015. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder