Archive for June, 2011

Great News From New York

June 25, 2011

The recent passage of a same-sex marriage bill in New York – and its near instant signature by Governor Cuomo – is extremely important, for several reasons. First, it more than doubles the number of United States residents who have the option of legally marrying, and probably doubles the number of same-sex couples who now have that option. That alone is a dramatic improvement in the legal lives of New Yorkers. Second, New York State is not a particularly liberal place when it comes to these sorts of issues – and this has been a hard fought battle and it was won vote-by-vote. Prevailing in New York is a powerful sign of how the politics of this issue have improved in recent years.

But there is a subtler way in which this is an important turning point. New York City is the nation’s center of commerce, journalism, and wealth. Changing the legal rules in New York means that stock brokerages, national corporations, newspapers and the like will all have to change their practices to recognize same-sex couples who have gotten married. Forms will change, personnel rules will change, and the treatment of the New York employees and residents will change. This will pave the way for easier changes nationally, and most likely will open up the minds of a powerful force of influential decision-makers – especially in corporate America. Moreover, the writers and publishers who work in New York will be witnessing the change, and this will lead to positive stories nationally.

Congratulations to the hard working political activists who made this change possible!

One minor word of caution: New York’s rules of marriage are particular onerous, especially when it comes to getting divorced. So while we all must celebrate this important new right to marry, the decision to actually get married should not be taken lightly. Please, don’t let your major contribution to the New York economy be the fees you have to pay to lawyers to end your same-sex marriage – at least not anytime soon!

Why the Bankruptcy Court Ruling Matters

June 16, 2011

In a recent ruling by the Central District of California’s Bankruptcy Court division, a nearly-unanimous block of 20 judges signed on to an opinion holding that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The issue arose when a married same-sex couple in California elected to file a joint bankruptcy petition – which can be beneficial and result in some cost-savings for some couples in debt. Predictably the bankruptcy trustee rejected the filing on the grounds that DOMA precluded any recognition of their same-sex marriage, and the couple filed an appeal. Typically only one judge signs an appeal decision, but in this case 20 out of the court’s 23 judges joined in the opinion.

In simple terms the judges ruled that DOMA violates the constitutional equal protection clause. They said that there is no rational basis for the law, focusing on the obvious truth that allowing a couple to file a joint bankruptcy petition could not have any effect on anyone else’s marriage. They focused on the structure of the bankruptcy process, and concluded that none of the reasons cited by Congress in passing DOMA made any sense in the context of the debtor protection laws.

While the practical impact of this ruling may be slight – and the financial implications are rather minor – the symbolic importance is enormous. Bankruptcy judges are not considered flaming radicals or “activist” judges, and the mundane world of creditor-debtor relations is not usually seen as a hotbed of political controversy. But this ruling reveals the many practical consequences of a law that has no legal merit – and hopefully will help pave the way to its demise, either judicially or legislatively.