Same sex marriage debate: What does that mean for NY same sex couples?

Posted at: 03/25/2013 10:20 PM
Updated at: 03/25/2013 11:18 PM
By: Lynette Adams

It's a huge week at the U.S. Supreme Court; two cases on same sex marriage and whether banning it is unconstitutional. While same sex marriage is legal in nine states including New York, it is banned in most states.
The U.S. Supreme Court hears two days of courtroom arguments this week over gay marriage.  At issue is whether states can ban it and whether the federal government can refuse to recognize it.         

But will any of this impact gay couples in New York State?

According to the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, there are 1,137 rights that heterosexual couples enjoy that don't apply to same sex couples and people say there is no other way to describe it other than "plain old fashion" discrimination and the Supreme Court's ruling could change that.

Bess Watts said, “Everybody is feeling a little anxious because our equality is on the line.”

Bess Watts didn't intend to become an activist. Neither did her wife Anne Tischer. They say they began to speak out when Watts wasn't allowed to put Tischer on her health insurance. Now together 19 years, married for six, Tischer is now covered by Watt's health insurance, but there are so many other benefits they say they can't receive as a married couple.

Bess Watts said, “Just applying for flexible spending at work. I can't put my wife Anne on flexible spending. It's a federal program. While my colleagues take advantage of that, health insurance taxes, I have to pay taxes on the health insurance I provide for my wife. Heterosexual couples don't have to pay that.”

The problem, Watts says, is the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act. It only recognizes marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It means the license of a legally married same-sex couple in New York, while legal, may not hold up in a state that does not recognize same sex marriages. So while it's legal in nine states, including New York, until the federal government recognizes these unions, people like Watts and Tischer say they will continue to face discrimination.

Watt said, “What is at stake tomorrow is our dignity as American citizens. All we want is the same rights, the same treatment, the same due process of law, nothing more and nothing less.”

Tuesday is the case of California's gay marriage ban. Wednesday, the Defense of Marriage Act that blocks federal benefit to same sex couples married in states that allow gay marriage.

Communities across the nation including Rochester will hold candlelight vigils Tuesday. The vigil will be held Tuesday at 4:30p.m. at the Federal Building Downtown.