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Queens welcomes vote giving federal benefits to same-sex couples

By Chris Engelhardt

Elected officials across Queens applauded the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday when it ruled that legally married same-sex couples should receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples and also made way for same-sex marriage in California.

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court justices invalidated a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevented married same-sex couples from receiving a number of benefits, including tax, health, retirement and Social Security benefits, that are available to married heterosexual couples. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.

The court then voted 5-4 that defenders of California’s gay marriage ban — added to the state’s constitution in 2008 through Proposition 8 — did not have the authority to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban. The court’s decision to not take up the case leaves in place the initial trial court declaration that the ban is unconstitutional.

To date, same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states, including New York, and the District of Columbia.

A bevy of Queens lawmakers, including Borough President Helen Marshall, lauded the Supreme Court’s decision, which they said put an end to the unequal treatment of same-sex couples.

“I am thrilled that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition and benefits to those who have entered into same-sex marriages in those states where such marriages are legal,” Marshall said. “What DOMA did was tell Americans that a legal same-sex marriage is somehow inferior to a marriage between a man and a woman, and thus does not deserve all the federal benefits granted to married couples of different sexes.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), the city’s first openly gay Council speaker, held a news conference at City Hall with a number of Queens elected officials, including openly gay Councilmen Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

Quinn, who grew emotional at times, called the ruling a huge victory for the LGBT community and all Americans.

“We believe that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — and that means the right to love, to build a life and a home and a family,” she said.

Van Bramer, who was accompanied by his husband, Dan Hendrick, said the court ruling is a powerful one that provides equality to all Americans regardless of their sexual orientation.

“No one should be denied that happiness, love and equality,” he said, noting that now many can celebrate the ruling, and millions, including mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, can share in the happiness of having full equality.

Dromm praised the court decisions supporting marriage equality.

“Today, the Supreme Court has helped this country take one huge step toward, fully realizing the ideals upon which the United States was founded,” he said. “A grave injustice has been righted for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. I am elated that the Supreme Court has relegated to the trash heap of history the ludicrously misnamed Defense of Marriage Act, which did nothing but defend unconstitutional bigotry and hatred.”

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) hailed the Supreme Court’s decisions, and said committed LGBT couples deserve equal protection and respect.

“This is a day to celebrate, and for everyone to tell their grandchildren about,” she said. “These decisions are giant steps forward on the inevitable path toward legalizing marriage equality nationwide and extending federal benefits to all. But much work remains. There are still tens of thousands more American couples who live in states where they are treated as second-class citizens. Our country is stronger when all families are respected and supported, and when we all recognize love is love.”

Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at cengelhardt@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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