26 posts categorized "Marriage Equality"

July 7, 2016

Why We Fight

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of SAGEMatters.

The Supreme Court validated the relationships of LGBT people across the nation in 2015 when it handed down its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Plaintiff Jim Obergefell took the time to speak with us about his experience in this history-making moment.

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Image: Emma Parker Photography


SAGE: How did you feel at the moment the Supreme Court decision came down? Can you describe it?

Jim Obergefell: When Justice Kennedy read our case number, I grabbed the hands of friends sitting on either side of me and listened intently. The first few sentences were a roller coaster of emotions, as I thought “we won”—followed closely by doubt. When it became clear that we had indeed won, I burst into tears and cried throughout the rest of his decision. I felt a mixture of sadness, joy, and satisfaction. Sadness, of course, because John wasn’t there to experience the win with me. It was impossible not to feel joy at that moment! Here was the highest court in the land saying that John and I—and couples like us—exist and are just as valid as any other couple. I also had a sense of satisfaction because I’d lived up to my promises to love, honor and protect John. It was a bittersweet day, but definitely more sweet than bitter.

SAGE: Caring for a terminally-ill partner requires profound physical and emotional strength. You’ve said that John gave you “the strength to do this.” How did family, friends and community reinforce that strength?

JO: I know I had moments when I was completely exhausted, emotionally and physically, but I always thought back to John and the fact that I was fighting for him, our marriage, and people across the country. I found that no matter how busy I was, I was energized by meeting people, talking about John, and speaking out for equality. My family and friends worried about me, but they understood how important it was, and they could also see how passionate I was about what I was doing. They also kept me grounded and sane by checking in with me and, more importantly, making time for me whenever I was home in Cincinnati. It’s impossible not to be energized when strangers stop me to say thank you, tell me stories, or share why my fight mattered to them.

SAGE: In winning a battle for you and John, you won something for all of us. Have you met any older—“SAGE age”—couples who’ve tied the knot since this summer’s Supreme Court victory? How have they inspired you?

JO: I have, and quite a few! I remember how frequently people were surprised by how long John and I were together, so I’ve loved meeting couples who have been together as long or longer. There’s been such a look of joy and contentment on their faces, and I can’t imagine a better thank you. I know how meaningful getting married was for John and me after twenty years together, so I understand a bit of how they feel. Every time a couple tells me they’ve finally married after being together for so long—or that their marriage is now recognized in all 50 states—I’m humbled to be part of that.

SAGE: In remarks following the decision, you shared your hope that the ruling would decrease LGBT stigma and discrimination. You also acknowledged the crisis in Charleston, saying we must continue to fight as “progress for some is not progress for all.” What issues do you hope to address in the coming year?

JO: Our country still hasn’t lived up to the promise of equality that’s part of our shared American identity, and my experience fighting for marriage equality has inspired me to continue being involved until we do. I’ll be working toward passage of the Equality Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity in federal non-discrimination protections. I’ll continue to speak out on behalf of our transgender brothers and sisters and lend my time and energy toward gaining much-needed protections for them. I also plan to become more involved with fighting homelessness among LGBTQ youth.

Read about Jim Obergefell and other LGBT trailblazers in the Fall 2015 issue of SAGEMatters. Download our Talk Before You Walk toolkit and infographics to learn how marriage equality affects your finances. Sign up for monthly email updates at sageusa.org/subscribe.

June 9, 2016

Celebrating LGBT Heroes of Pride

It’s the first full week of Pride Month 2016 and the LGBT community is off to an exciting start. On May 31st, President Obama proclaimed June as LGBT Pride Month, calling upon the country to "eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people." SAGE is grateful for this special recognition of a longtime tradition that's brought the LGBT community together.

During Pride Month with celebrations nationwide, the LGBT community and its allies remember the historic Stonewall Riots that happened in New York City in 1969. This year is particularly special, as we mark the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Obergefell marriage decision.

Join SAGE as we recognize the Heroes of Pride — LGBT trailblazers who have fought long and hard to make a better life for all of us — and reaffirm our love for friends, family and each other. If you’re in the New York area, please join us for these upcoming Pride events, and visit our SAGENet Affiliate websites to find out how you can celebrate in a city near you.

Brooklyn Pride: Saturday, June 11
Harlem Pride: Saturday, June 25
Manhattan Pride: Sunday, June 26
Bronx Pride: Saturday, July 16

If you missed our booth at Queens Pride on June 5, here's a photo of SAGE staff spreading the love:

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Visit our Pride 2016! photo album on Facebook

Other important tributes in June:

On Saturday, June 4, to kick off the summer season, SAGE held its 24th Annual Celebration in the Pines, honoring Eric Sawyer, Linda Gottlieb, Marc Cote & Jay Henry. See photos on Facebook.

On Sunday, June 5, for HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day, we paid tribute on social to LGBT elders living with HIV. Today more than half of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S. are over the age of 50. While HIV has become more like managing a chronic disease, many long-term survivors are facing new crises that affect their physical, mental and financial well-being. Follow the conversation and show your support on social media with #‎LongTermSurvivors.

On Friday, June 10, the Chicago-based National Board Members of SAGE will host its annual SAGE & Friends reception, where SAGE will honor U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Caucus, for his advocacy on behalf of LGBT rights and his support of issues impacting older individuals. SAGE will also recognize Phyllis Johnson and Torlene "Toi" Williams for their pioneering Affinity Community Services' Trailblazers, and for their grassroots advocacy on behalf of LGBT older adults in Chicago.

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'Legends' gather for the exhibition reception at Leslie-Lohman.

Also this month, SAGE is celebrating our LGBT elders of color with a series of powerful yet understated photographs of unsung Black LGBTQ 'legends,' now on display through August 12 at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York. Read more and see images from the project here.

In the words of President Obama:

This journey, led by forward-thinking individuals who have set their sights on reaching for a brighter tomorrow, has never been easy or smooth.  The fight for dignity and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is reflected in the tireless dedication of advocates and allies who strive to forge a more inclusive society.  They have spurred sweeping progress by changing hearts and minds and by demanding equal treatment -- under our laws, from our courts, and in our politics.  This month, we recognize all they have done to bring us to this point, and we recommit to bending the arc of our Nation toward justice.

Stay tuned this month for Pride 2016 updates and follow the SAGE blog as we celebrate LGBT Heroes Of Pride in June and beyond. Follow and share on social with hash tag #HeroesOfPride.

 

May 25, 2016

Pushing the Envelope of Progress

By Chris Delatorre

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From left: Barbara Satin (National LGBTQ Task Force), Sandy Warshaw, Dr. Imani Woody (Mary's House), and Michael Adams (SAGE).

As the first anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges approaches, it’s a good time to recap a few developments that show continued progress since last June. In 2015, Jim Obergefell received the inaugural LGBT Pioneer Award for his courage and persistence, which inspired the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality, forever changing the landscape of LGBT social politics.

In an interview with SAGE last year, Obergefell said, "Our country still hasn’t lived up to the promise of equality that’s part of our shared American identity," adding that he would work toward passage of the Equality Act, a bill that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, public accommodations and other areas. The bill has since attracted significant Congressional support, including that of two main 2016 presidential candidates.

Of course, bills and resolutions are one way to sort social progress; as the old proverb begins, "give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day." If you teach a man to fish, however, you feed him for a lifetime — which basically translates to expanding leadership positions to include LGBT people, which helps to provide sustainable long term support for the community.

Consider LGBT servicemen and women. The nation has come a long way since "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was repealed five years ago. On May 17 in what's been applauded as a historic step for the military, the U.S. Senate confirmed Eric Fanning as Army secretary, making him "the first openly gay person to lead a military service."

The transgender community is making strides as well. The U.S. military is now considering a policy that would allow transgender troops to serve openly, and despite recent setbacks in North Carolina and other states with discriminatory bills like HB2, transgender advocates led by Reverend Debra J. Hopkins and others, continue to push forward. Hopkins’ efforts have gained the support of allies like U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch who was described earlier this month as "the world's most powerful advocate for trans rights."

Also recently, President Obama appointed Barbara Satin to his Advisory Council on Faith-based Neighborhood Partnerships. Satin, who attended the White House Conference on Aging as a SAGE delegate last year, is the first transgender woman to serve on the advisory council.

In a blog for the National LGBTQ Task Force, Satin wrote, "As a trans woman activist and an old person (I turned 81 two days after the conference), I felt a special responsibility to give the reality of trans aging – our issues and needs – a high profile."

This is progress.

Chris Delatorre is the Senior Digital Content Manager at SAGE. Learn more about SAGE’s federal advocacy at sageusa.org/federal. May is Older Americans Month. Connect on social media with #OAM16 and join SAGE's #TalkB4UWalk campaign.

April 19, 2016

A New LGBTQ Victory Is a Victory for All of Us: The Social Security Administration Does the Right Thing

The following excerpt is from an article that originally appeared on The Huffington Post blog on April 16, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Nancy Altman

Does the government work for us or against us? As the result of a decision by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), the government is working better for all of us today. For convincing SSA to do the right thing, we should thank Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), and 119 of their colleagues. We are also indebted, for this victory, to two effective, dedicated nonprofits, Justice in Aging and the GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), as well as Foley Hoag, LLP, the law firm that assisted them.

SSA is responsible for two crucially important programs. It administers Social Security, which provides a floor of economic protection in the form of insurance to working families whose wages are lost as the result of death, disability or old age. It also administers a companion program, Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), which provides means-tested benefits to extremely low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

These programs exemplify the good that can be done when all of us work together through our government to improve all of our lives. But, despite its positive mission, SSA has been engaging in a destructive practice that represents government not working for us, but against us. SSA has been sending, to hundreds of thousands of Social Security beneficiaries and SSI recipients, bills for what it concludes are overpayments.

These are not cases of fraud (which are vanishingly rare) but, frequently, cases where it was the government itself that made the error. The beneficiaries and recipients did nothing wrong. They reported all information correctly, but the government did not act on the information in a timely way or created the error in some other way. To add insult to injury, our government outrageously calls those receiving these notices “debtors,” though they have done nothing wrong, and, indeed, may be scrupulous about paying their bills on time.

The federal government has enormous power. When it chooses to go after someone, it is generally an intimidating experience even when the person in its crosshairs is an innocent, law abiding citizen. If this powerful entity is seeking large sums of money that you don’t have, it can be a disruptive and upsetting experience. Moreover, in the case of Social Security and SSI overpayments, the government is going after people who are generally our most vulnerable fellow Americans. Over the last year, this intimidating power got turned on the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community, as a result of the 2013 landmark Supreme Court decision, US v. Windsor.

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Image: Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor, via ACLU

The Windsor case struck down the offensively-named Defense of Marriage Act. As a result of the Supreme Court decision, same-sex couples who were legally married under state law finally had their marriages recognized by the federal government. For couples in which one or both partners received SSI, this important victory was followed by a distressing letter from the government. Under SSI’s stringent and complicated rules, married recipients receive lower benefits than those who are unmarried. Consequently, a year after that landmark case, SSA began reviewing its SSI rolls to determine whether the benefits it was paying some of its recipients, now that same-sex marriages were recognized as marriages, were now inaccurate in amount.

When SSA found that benefits were now too high, it did not just change the benefit level going forward. It sought repayment of the difference between the two amounts for every benefit paid all the way back to July 1, 2013, the month following the Windsor decision. Here was the government coming after people for large sums of money that they didn’t have.

Continue reading on The Huffington Post blog.

March 8, 2016

Remembering International Women’s Day

By Vera Lukacs 

In today’s world, women of all ages are largely overlooked, discouraged, and unsupported in accomplishing their goals. This is especially true in the LGBT older women’s community. It is critical that in the larger community we are empowering and elevating the voices of women of all ages and backgrounds. With this in mind, SAGE is celebrating the following individuals: 

 

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Katherine Acey and SAGE's CEO Michael Adams at Creating Change-- Photo by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

Katherine Acey, recipient of the SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues, is exceptionally noteworthy. Acey, an Arab American, is a highly respected feminist in the LGBT older adult community. She was the executive director for Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice for 23 years. Two other notable heroes are Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz, recipients of the SAGE Pioneer Award. Berman and Kurtz have been together for 42 years and married since July 26th, 2011— two days after New York recognized marriage equality. Featured in the documentary, Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, the couple fights for the protection and equality of LGBT elders. 

Who are some of your favorite heroines? It can be a celebrity, a friend, or an inspiring family member like mine.  

When I was asked to write about the significance of Women’s History Month and SAGE’s work with women throughout the years, I spent days racking my brain trying to think of who I could claim as an inspiring female role model. I thought about women in history like Audre Lorde, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and CeCe McDonald. Or maybe I’d list some of my best friends, who are all doing incredible work for the women’s rights movement. While making burritos for my partner and I on a Sunday night, my mind suddenly went to my female role model: my 14-year-old cousin, Olivia Najarian.  

I first heard about the remarkable work Olivia is doing with the World Bicycle Relief through her mother’s Facebook. World Bicycle Relief is an organization that provides bikes to people in communities that are less fortunate. In April 2015, Olivia kick-started her work with the organization by writing an essay for their blog on why she wanted to fundraise for them, and the importance of certain disparities between western culture and that of other parts of the world. She is currently working on a project of her own called Good Spokes, a nonprofit that aims to provide safe access to education on health care for people in need. Olivia is just one example of what a young woman can achieve with a bit of support, encouragement, and a lot of determination. 

Vera Lukacs is SAGE's Digital Media Assistant. 

July 2, 2015

"Go, get married! But before you do..."

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court decreed that marriage equality for LGBT people was a constitutional right. That night, in front of the iconic Stonewall Inn and hundreds of revelers, Edie Windsor, marriage equality heroine, teamed up with SAGE to share a special message in light of the Court's decision. As she says, "by all means—go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walk." Watch the video and learn more about Talk Before You Walk in a letter Edie wrote below.

 
Letter from Edie Windsor
 
I am unequivocally proud to stand in celebration today with my friends and family at SAGE. Together, we salute our LGBT colleagues and allies whose leadership and tenacity have achieved this extraordinary moment. A new day has dawned - one in which I am humbled to have played a role through my own victory before the Supreme Court exactly two years ago. The pride and courage of the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges have brought the freedom to marry to all Americans.

By all means--go, get married! But before you do, learn how a marriage will impact you, both financially and legally. Put simply, talk before you walkSAGE and I are partnering on a new campaign to make sure people, including LGBT older people, can find the information they need on marriage. Check outTalkBeforeYouWalk.org to find out what marriage may mean for you.

The momentum of this decision propels tomorrow's work forward. SAGE returns to the task at hand: ensuring that LGBT people can age with the safety, dignity, and affirmation that every human being deserves. The Supreme Court's decision amplifies my love and appreciation for SAGE's vital work -- because this work is the next step in our community's onward march toward equality for ALL. 

With utmost pride,

Edie Windsor 
April 24, 2015

Why Marriage Equality Matters for LGBT Older Adults

Rainbow-13902_640Many don’t know that same-sex spouses in non-marriage states still don’t qualify for all the same federal benefits that their different sex counterparts enjoy, simply because they are married to someone of the same sex.  This is an issue that comes up in the context of Social Security, Veterans Administration, and some Medicare benefits.   And it is all the more important for LGBT older adults who face pronounced poverty and lack of access to culturally competent healthcare.

This topic is one that our Executive Director, Michael Adams, examines in detail with his latest op-ed Why Marriage Equality Matters for Older Americans. "Marriage has proven highly effective for improving the lives of many older people," and given the unique issues our LGBT older adult population face, marriage "could be even more beneficial for older same-sex couples than it has been for older straight couples."

Adams writes: 

"Incredibly, two years after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages, some married same-sex couples are still being denied federal benefits especially important to older adults.  This is because some federal agencies use the “place of domicile” rule to determine whether a couple is considered married.  As a result, bereaved widows like Kathy continue to be denied Social Security survivors’ benefits because the state in which they live does not recognize their marriage."

With this is mind, SAGE is proud to endorse a bill, the ‘‘Social Security and Medicare Parity Act of 2015,’’ being introduced this week by Representative Mark Takano (D. CA), which would provide equal spousal and survivor benefits, create more flexible marriage tenure requirements, and require the Social Security Administration to engage in more outreach to LGBT older adults so that they are made aware of new or increased benefits.

In addition, SAGE, with the assistance of Jack Nadler as the lead lawyer from the firm Squire Patton Boggs, recently filed an amicus brief related to Obergefell v. Hodges. This historic case will be heard next week and allows the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the U.S. Constitution requires every U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and to recognize marriages of same-sex couples lawfully performed in any other state. SAGE filed the brief with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Justice in Aging, National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the American Society on Aging. To learn more about the brief and our four major arguments, click here.

 

March 19, 2015

SAGE and Aging Organizations Brief Supreme Court on Why Elders Need Marriage Equality

USSupremeCourtWestFacadeSAGE, with the assistance of Jack Nadler as the lead lawyer from the firm Squire Patton Boggs, recently filed an amicus brief (friend of the court brief) related to the upcoming marriage cases that the Supreme Court will hear on April 28, 2015. SAGE filed the brief with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Justice in Aging, National Hispanic Council on Aging, and the American Society on Aging. 

In this brief, SAGE made four major arguments: 

 

  1. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage deprives them of access to federal, state, and private benefits that are especially important for older adults;
  2. denial of the right to marry deprives older same-sex couples of the intangible benefits that marriage provides to older different sex couples;
  3. allowing older different sex couples to marry despite being non-procreative, while forbidding older same-sex couples from marrying because they are non-procreative, is self-evidently irrational; and
  4. older same-sex couples should not have to wait any longer to enjoy the benefits of marriage. 

 

Our hope is that our unique aging lens will provide a compelling view of marriage to the justices – and that perhaps – our brief will make a difference in bringing us closer to the day when same-sex couples can age with access to benefits, services, and supports, equal to their different sex counterparts.

Read a copy of the brief and our press release on the SAGE site.

This post was written by Aaron Tax, SAGE's Director of Federal Relations.

January 21, 2015

A Conversation with Newlyweds and SAGE Tulsa Participants Ray and Eduardo

It’s never too late to celebrate love! After more than a decade together, SAGE Participants Ray Mahoney, 66, and  his partner Eduardo Saurez, who is 86, were married on October 12, 2014 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 

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Eduardo Saurez, Serena Worthington, SAGE’s Director of National
Field Initiatives, and Ed Mahoney
 

Ray and Eduardo met by chance, or “destiny” as Ray says, at a local food store one day. Ray remembers being struck by how tall Eduardo was. And Eduardo was impressed by Ray too, so he asked Ray for lunch the next day, and they immediately hit it off.

They love a good road trip and have seen a lot of the country in their years together. Ray remembers traveling to see a space shuttle launch in Florida, only to have a rain storm roll in and delay the big event. They’ve also visited Memphis, where they took the Civil Rights tour and visited Graceland. Visiting Nashville is also a fond memory for Ray, who says “It’s a fun town—there’s a party going on everywhere you go!”

The idea of getting married was initially proposed by Eduardo, who says, “I had to persuade him! But I didn’t argue with him.” Once the decision was made, the ceremony was performed by Toby Jenkins, executive Director for Oklahomans for Equality. The happy couple celebrated afterward at SAGE Tulsa with friends, food, and their favorite music.

A theme emerges consistently in conversations about marriage with Ray and Eduardo: security. They both feel a sense of relief knowing that they’re now legally protected and won’t be separated if they have to go into a nursing home or assisted living facility. Without children or other family members nearby, they are each other’s primary safety net.

Ray’s sister Louisa has been supportive of him, but wasn’t encouraging about the wedding at first, saying “you can always back out”. Despite that, Ray and Eduardo show no signs of splitting up. When faced with marital arguments, they’ll tell you they don’t fight—Ray jokes “you don’t argue with the judge!” They tease each other, and Eduardo says they “kid around a lot, but [we] don’t insult each other.” They agree that mutual respect is the key to their success as a couple.

Eduardo is grateful for the protection of marriage, saying that “If I pass away, whatever money we have, goes to each other. I thank God that we trust each other and get along fine!”

Ray shared a portion of his wedding vows to describe his feelings about getting married, saying that “Nothing can equal having someone to be sure of, having someone to believe in, to share a good life with. At the end there are neither riches nor fame, only past remembrances of the few people we’ve shared spiritual unions with.” He added that “If you live your whole life and you find one person you can believe in and trust, you’ve done something!”

Cheers to Ray and Eduardo! May they have many more adventures together.

 

October 2, 2014

First Comes Love

Storytelling is an integral part of SAGE's national work and we use our SAGE Story program to strengthen the storytelling skills—and draw on the unique life experiences of—LGBT older adults to diversify the public narratives on aging, long-term care and LGBT rights. One storyline that continues to resonate in our community is that of love, committment and, sometimes, marriage.

In honor of celebrating these relationships, SAGE is excited for the release of First Comes Love: Portraits of Enduring LGBTQ Relationships from photographer Barbara Proud. This book highlights photos and love stories of 65 long-term same-sex couples, together from 10 to 59 years. Watch the trailer below for a few of these couples' amazing stories and feel free to share your own with SAGE

First Comes Love from B. Proud on Vimeo.