Local Roots Influencing National DOMA Decision


By Brandon B. QuinnLast week’s Supreme Court ruling in the United States V. Windsor case, which declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, has nationwide implications—but it has distinctly local roots.

The first instance of Hamptons influence on the case was evident in the initial court documents filed on behalf of the defendant, Edith “Edie” Windsor. Ms. Windsor married her same-sex partner of more than four decades, Thea Spyer, in Toronto in 2007. The marriage was recognized in New York, where they lived, but when Ms. Spyer died less than two years later, the federal government claimed Ms. Windsor owed $363,053 in estate taxes, because the Defense of Marriage Act barred the IRS from recognizing same-sex marriages.

If their marriage was recognized, her inheritance, which included a Tuckahoe Lane residence in Tuckahoe that they purchased together in 1968, would have transferred to Ms. Windsor tax free.

The documents filed in court talk extensively of the time the couple spent together in the Hamptons. The court filings note that when Ms. Windsor was desperate to spend time with Ms. Spyer, she came to the Hamptons on Memorial Day and tracked her down.

“In 1968, Edie and Thea bought a small house together on Long Island. It was just big enough for them to shower off the sand from the beach and change into clothes for dancing,” the suit reads. “In that home, they spent the next 40 summers, and it was the site of some of their happiest memories together.”

According to the court filings, “When Thea could no longer swim [because of her declining health], the couple installed equipment to help Thea enter, exit and float in the summer house pool.”

The references to the couple’s Hamptons roots continue throughout, but that isn’t the only local connection. The lead lawyer arguing the case for Ms. Windsor, Roberta Kaplan, is a “core member” of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, based in Bridgehampton, according to Rabbi Jan Uhrbach. Ms. Kaplan’s secretary also confirmed that she splits her time between Southampton and New York City.

“We are beyond proud of Roberta and Edie,” said Ms. Uhrbach.

“DOMA was the last law on the books that mandated discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay,” said Ms. Kaplan in a statement. “The days of ‘skim milk’ or second-class marriages for gay people are now over.”

With all the local participants, reaction to the case has been pouring in from all walks of life.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in a statement: “As Justice [Anthony] Kennedy’s opinion noted, DOMA violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Further, this is a matter better left to the states to decide. New York State took a national leadership role when it legalized same-sex marriage through the 2011 Marriage Equality Act. This federal decision re-affirms the leadership role taken by New York State.”

The Incarnation Lutheran Church in Water Mill celebrated the decision with a “Decision Day” rally. Holding signs that read “Love Wins,” “Honk If You Are Gay (Happy),” and “I’m Gay and That’s OK!” the crowd of 15 people, young and old, gay and straight, stood by Montauk Highway and shouted with joy anytime they were greeted with a honk or wave—which was often.

One rally attendee was Blanche Cook, who has been in a relationship with her wife, Clare Coss, for 44 years, though the two got married only four years ago. “It is a great, momentous day for love equality,” she said.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said: “The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act corrects a grievous wrong that unjustly enshrined discrimination in our nation’s laws. In New York State, we celebrate that everyone has the right to marry whomever we so choose. For those who have sacrificed and suffered to ensure that this day came to pass, I commend your perseverance.”

U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of Ms. Windsor in October 2012, said, “America is a more just and more pro-family nation as a result of this ruling.”

One of the few voices of opposition locally was the Reverend Donald Havrilla, who said that the Supreme Court should not be in the business of legislating. “In my opinion, and most evangelicals feel this way, I look at this as another decline in the morals of America. It is judicial legislation—when legislators abdicate on moral issues, the courts step in,” he said. “We are declining as a nation from a Judeo-Christian viewpoint, and this is just not a good sign.”

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