Redefinition of marriage sought by some

If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act this month, changes in civil rights are expected to occur.

DOMA defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. If the act is ruled unconstitutional, it opens the way for homosexual couples to marry under the U.S. Constitution. While the marriages might not be recognized in states that do not accept gay unions, same-gender couples could receive federal benefits that they are denied now, including tax benefits such as filing a joint return.

DOMA is being challenged by Edie Windsor of New York. She had to pay an estate tax bill of $363,000 when Thea Spayer, her partner for more than 40 years died. The couple had wed in Canada, but New York did not recognize the marriage.

Marla, a lesbian who lives in the Altoona area and whose name has been changed for this story, believes a change in the definition of marriage would be a breakthrough.

Although she currently does not have a partner, she would like to have the right to leave a military pension to a spouse. She served her country for more than 20 years but said she does not have that option.

“If I was married to a man, I could get some of his money, but I can’t get money [retirement benefits] for a partner. The government does not acknowledge it [same-gender marriage].”

With about 11 states accepting gay marriage, she said more people are becoming enlightened, and she is glad there is more acceptance.

She said she has that acceptance at her workplace.

“Where I work, everybody knows I am a lesbian. It is not an issue. It shouldn’t be an issue.”

Alec, also of the Altoona area, said he is glad to see gays standing up for their rights and being accepted.

He said he worries about teens who are bullied and commit suicide because of their sexual orientation.

“Because of prejudicial behavior, they take their own lives,” said Alec, whose name was changed for this story.

Rabbi Audrey Korotkin of Temple Beth Israel said DOMA dates back to the 1990s when houses of worship were beginning to question their attitudes toward same-sex relationships and whether to allow open gay or lesbian clergy to serve in the pulpit.

She said what was happening in houses of worship and the government was reflecting what was happening in general in society.

She said during the past 20 years, there has been a push for states to sanction same-sex marriage. While some voices strongly support it, others just as strongly oppose it.

Korotkin referred to President Barack Obama’s comments about how his feelings on same-sex marriage were constantly evolving.

“We live in a country where feelings have been evolving since the 1990s,” she said.

Sam Rohrer, president of the Pennsylvania Pastors’ Network and a former state legislator from Berks County, has not changed his feelings. Although he stands by DOMA, he believes the court will rule that it is unconstitutional.

“It is a statute, not an amendment,” he said.

Rohrer believes the court’s decision will impact the American culture.

“It will redefine the family and the way children are raised,” he said. “The father’s role to the mother and her role to the father will be changed as well as their responsibility to each other and the children.”

Rohrer predicted that “the interactivity between and within family units will be further eroded by such a change.”

He predicted that more states will change their laws to recognize same-gender marriage and federal programs that were once reserved for heterosexual spouses and their families will be open to anyone.

He said a cultural shift can already be seen in society.

As a legislator, he served on the Pennsylvania Education Committee for six years. He said a major problem with children’s education is the breakdown of the family and the absence of the father in the home. He said when parents are engaged in a child’s education, the child’s grades improve and the number of graduates goes up.

A lack of standards is eventually fatal to a nation, he said.

“It can’t survive,” Rohrer said.