Derryck Green, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, offers a unique perspective on the case of United States v. Edith Windsor. This case is being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court today.
The case is dominating headlines because it is being used by gay rights advocates to press for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Derryck, however, finds the case important and the defendants case to be compelling for a different reason than pretty much everyone else.
Instead, Derryck sees the base concerns of Edith Windsor as something affecting more than the small percentage of Americans who claim to be marriage-minded homosexuals. A concern about intrusive and excessive government taxation — particularly death taxes — is a much broader concern that deserves more attention when contemplating this case.
Yesterday, it was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that Proposition 8 — the amendment to the California state constitution that recognizes marriages are recognized as only between a man and a woman (and rightly so) — is unconstitutional.
Today, the justices are hearing a case challenging the constitutionality of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA is a federal law prohibiting same-sex couples from receiving a number of federal remunerations that include tax breaks and pension benefits.
The case was brought before the Court because the plaintiff, Edith Windsor, was required to pay over $350,000 to the federal government in estate taxes after her partner of 40 years passed away. Since the federal government didn’t recognize their “marriage,” the IRS came calling to collect.
With respect to Ms. Windsor and all who are in this position, the emotional toll of losing a loved one is tough enough. The stress of the situation is only compounded when the IRS is involved. But what happened to Ms. Windsor isn’t an opportunity for the Supreme Court to redefine marriage by any stretch.
What this case should bring attention to is the high level of estate taxes — the top rate being 40 percent. If Ms. Windsor really wanted to be an influential agent of change, she would aggressively advocate for an easy and legal transfer of wealth with a reduced percentage of taxes paid in the process.
Americans already pay too much in taxes at virtually every level of government while they are alive. The thought of people dealing with the pain of losing a loved one and then being forced to endure the anxiety of paying taxes on what is bequeathed to them, at a level set by the government, is a cause for righteous indignation.
Ms. Windsor would have much more support across America championing the cause of lowering estate taxes and the contractual transfer of wealth and property rather than using this opportunity as an attempt to redefine a social institution as old as history itself.
It seems to me that this gives a clarifying insight into the motives behind challenging DOMA’s constitutionality.
Unfortunately, this is simply one more missed opportunity to have a qualitative and lasting impact on American society in the shortsighted and narcissistic era of “change” and “equality.”