DOMA lawyer weighs in on what’s next for marriage equality movement

A happy New Yorker hugged James Esseks in front of the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Center in the West Village upon hearing that Esseks was one of the lawyers who brought down the Defense of Marriage Act. Credit: Bess Adler
A happy New Yorker hugged James Esseks in front of the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Center in the West Village upon hearing that Esseks was one of the lawyers who brought down the Defense of Marriage Act. Credit: Bess Adler

Metro caught up with American Civil Liberties Union attorney James Esseks last Wednesday as he and his client, Edie Windsor, and the other attorneys representing Windsor in her case against the United States government were celebrating their long-awaited victory: the Supreme Court had just struck down the Defense of Marriage Act after years of litigation on Windsor’s behalf.

Windsor sued the United States government when she was forced to pay estate taxes after the death of her partner, Thea Spyer. She would not have had to pay anything had the federal government recognized her and Spyer’s marriage as equal to heterosexual marriages. Now Windsor will get her money back, with interest—and married same-sex couples in the United States will finally have their marriages recognized by the federal government.

But the fight is not over, Esseks told Metro: the marriage equality movement has now set its sights on making same-sex marriage legal in every state in the nation.

 

What a huge day for you! Did you see this coming?

Well, of course we were hoping for a win. You don’t file a lawsuit hoping to lose, obviously. But it’s a 5-4 decision, so it was close. But it’s a win—and it’s right. The decision recognizes the dignity that’s inherent in marriage and the importance of marriage in people’s lives, and it also recognizes how devastating it is to be told by the federal government that your marriage never happened or your marriage doesn’t count, and that the person, in Edie’s case, that you spent 44 years with and that you spent two years with as spouses, is a legal stranger to you. That’s a horrible thing to say to anybody and anybody who is married in America and anybody who wants to get married in America can understand that, how harmful and hurtful that would be, to say your relationship doesn’t matter and didn’t happen.

So to have those principles recognizes and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court is a wonderful day in America.

What’s the next stage here? Is it on the state level? How is this going to affect states?

So, what we got today is if you’re married under state law, you’re married under federal law. And ending discrimination in marriage was a supreme goal for the Freedom to Marry movement.

The other goal of the movement is to ensure that we have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in every state in the country. And with today’s ruling in the Prop 8 case, we’ve got 13 states plus the District of Columbia, and that’s a big deal. 30 percent of the United States population lives in a freedom to marry state—almost a third. And that’s a big deal too. So the next thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to win more marriage states.

How are you going to do that? What’s the plan?

The way we’re going to do that is in part through state legislature. We’re now pushing marriage laws in New Jersey and Illinois and Hawaii and I’m hopeful that we’re going to pass those laws within the next year.

We also have to take back some of the constitutional amendments, and there are 29 of them right now that exclude same-sex couples from marriage in their constitutions. So in 2014 we’re going to be on the ballot in Oregon and we’re going to try to win the freedom to marry and put the freedom to marry in the state Constitution. We’re going to do the same thing in Nevada in 2016 and we’re working with state and national coalition partners to see where else in the States it makes sense to go to the ballot.

And we’re going to win some more states through litigation. We have a case pending in the New Mexico state courts seeking the freedom to marry under the state constitution.

So there are many different paths to the freedom to marry in more states, but getting more states is the goal.

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Thousands protest in New York over Eric Garner…

The Reverend Al Sharpton led thousands of chanting but peaceful activists in a march across Staten Island on Saturday to protest the death of Eric Garner.

International

Egypt calls for Gaza ceasefire as fighting rages

Egypt called on Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday to halt fire and resume peace talks, but violence continued unabated.

National

SpaceX rocket terminated in Texas test flight

A Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9 rocket suffered an anomaly shortly after launch on a test flight, triggering its automatic termination system.

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

Music

Arcade Fire concert review, Massachusetts, Aug. 19

Arcade Fire take the opposite approach of "Shut up and play the hits," and it works in their favor on the "Reflektor" tour.

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

NFL

3 things we learned about the Giants in…

The Giants claimed the Snoopy trophy in a battle of MetLife Stadium tenants Friday night. But more importantly, the offense finally showed some life in…

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

Wellbeing

Asics is giving away free gear around NYC…

Asics wants to see you on the court - and in the stands for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday - by giving away free…

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…