NASW takes active role leading up to rulings in five U.S. Supreme Court cases

Sep 10, 2013

By Rena Malai, News staff

NASW was active in five high-profile cases that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on this summer. The cases covered the issues of same-sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action and adoption — all areas of special concern to social workers.

Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Martin Luther King Jr., speaks at a rally for the Voting Rights Act in February at the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is one of five in which NASW took an active role leading up to Supreme Court rulings in June.

Through the work of NASW’s Legal Defense Fund, the association joined in filing amicus briefs in all five cases, and NASW members and staff attended rallies and issued statements and letters to support the association’s positions.

DOMA and Proposition 8

In the case U.S. v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling it unconstitutional. NASW issued a statement supporting the decision, saying it sends a message “that all Americans have a right to enjoy the financial benefits and equal dignity of a recognized marriage.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision … opens the door for many same-sex couples to have access to all the legal rights afforded by marriage,” NASW President Jeane Anastas wrote in a blog post released after the ruling. “This is a critical moment in the continued need to address the legal and social inequalities that hurt LGBT couples and their families.”

NASW is also encouraged by the court’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry (California’s Proposition 8), which opened the door for California to resume issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“The Supreme Court’s DOMA and Prop 8 decisions are a historic step forward on the pathway to true equity,” NASW CEO Angelo McClain said in a blog post. “Social workers must seize this momentum to end employment-based discrimination and support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and end discrimination and harassment in the workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.”

Josephine Tittsworth, who has served on the NASW board of directors and the NASW National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, said because of the DOMA ruling, the IRS can no longer discriminate against legally married same-sex couples. In U.S. v. Windsor, same-sex couple Edith Windsor and  Thea Spyer were lawfully married in Canada in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Windsor. But because Windsor was not considered a spouse under DOMA, she was subject to pay a hefty inheritance tax on the estate, a tax for which a heterosexual widow would not have been liable.

“If the couple is in a state where they cannot legally be married, it’s not their fault and the IRS should acknowledge the relationship whether they’re in a state that allows it or not,” Tittsworth said. “When you have couples that love each other, regardless of their sexes, and something happens to one of them, they shouldn’t be penalized by the IRS because it’s a love relationship.”

In the Prop 8 case, Tittsworth said gay and lesbian couples were being discriminated against by a majority, which is heterosexual in California. “The government need(ed) to step in and take action with this just like they did in 1964 and 1968 with the Civil Rights Act,” she said.

From the September 2013 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.