Courting controversy?

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During the coverage of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in June, I first heard of 84-year-old plaintiff Edie Windsor. Although she had married her longtime partner in 2007, the marriage wasn’t recognized legally. When her wife died in 2009, Windsor was hit with a $363,000 estate tax bill she would not have had to pay if she her spouse had been male.

“I felt distressed and anguished that in the eyes of my government, the woman I had loved and cared for and had shared my life with was not my spouse, but was considered a stranger with no relationship to me,” Windsor said prior to the court’s decision.

I became intrigued by what the decision meant for same-sex older couples, both legally and on a personal level. In the District of Columbia, Maryland, California and 11 states where they can legally marry, all married couples will now be treated equally, regarding taxes, Social Security benefits, medical power of attorney and more.

So I went off to find some older Washington, D.C.-area same-sex couples who had wed or were contemplating marriage in the wake of recent law changes. My assumption was that this would be a happy story about love and equality.

But at first I found no one who wanted to be featured in a Beacon article.  Judy Evans, with the nonprofit group SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay Elders) told me, “People who are older and LGBT grew up at a time when it was such a stigma and shame and when being gay was seen as a mental illness, many fewer of them are out or comfortable being public.”

As I persevered, I did find a number of couples who were happy to discuss their marriages with me. One noted that change and acceptance is happening quickly. “I went to a LGBT reception at the White House this year,” Imani Woody Macke told me. “Just having ‘LGBT’ and ‘White House’ in the same sentence is surreal.”

Still, some of the Beacon’s readers have disagreed with our choice to feature this issue on the cover of the Beacon. One wrote, “Must we have our noses rubbed in same-sex ‘marriage’ every day and in every publication?  It strikes at the very roots of civilization and morality.” Another said, “Gay is not normal.”

But another reader applauded our story. “Even though we live in a socially progressive metropolitan area, I think it was courageous and timely to put the issue on the front cover of your publication.”

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