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A path toward dignity and equality with PRIDE Act

VOICES Judy Chu Becca Balint PRIDE Act Plaintiff lesbian widow Edie Windsor 2013 case challenging constitutionality DOMA lgbtq supporters supreme court Plaintiff Jim Obergefell holding photo late husband John Arthur 2015 samesex couples right to marry all 50 states
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images

The fight for marriage equality has been a long and emotional journey for many in the LGBTQ+ community. The PRIDE Act aims to right the wrongs of the past and ensure equal treatment for all couples, writes congressional representatives of the Equality Caucus.

For many Americans, one of the happiest days of their lives is proclaiming their love for their spouse in front of family and friends. But then there are those of us who had to wait until marriage equality was the law of the land to obtain a marriage license and the benefits that derive from being married in the eyes of the state and federal government.

There was so much to celebrate when the Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 the right to marriage equality under the Constitution. But there was also our duty to right the wrongs of pre-Obergefell America, particularly in the tax and finance arena.

VOICES Judy Chu Becca Balint PRIDE Act lgbtq supporters supreme court Plaintiff Jim Obergefell holding photo late husband John Arthur 2015 samesex couples right to marry all 50 statesPlaintiff Jim Obergefell is holding photo late husband John Arthur 2015 same-sex couples right to marry all 50 states.Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nearly two decades before Obergefell, theDefense of Marriage Act (DOMA) became federal law in 1996, denying same-sex couples the rights and benefits afforded to different-sex couples. The benefit denials didn't just impact their finances but were an affront to their dignity. When Edie Windsor's wife, Thea Spyer, died in 2009 and left her estate, Edie was denied the marital exemption from the federal estate tax because of DOMA. The federal government refused to recognize her as a "surviving spouse," so Edie had to pay $363,053.

This wasn't just a financial burden, as Edieexplained: "In the midst of my grief at the loss of the love of my life, I had to deal with my own government saying that we weren't a family."

Edie sued. In theUnited States v. Windsorcase of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the part of DOMA that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. So, for couples in states where marriage equality was the law of the land, every married couple could finally receive the federal benefits their marriage entitled them to. Then, Obergefell came down, expanding marriage equality nationwide.

VOICES Judy Chu Becca Balint PRIDE Act Plaintiff lesbian widow Edie Windsor DOMA 2013 case lgbtq supporters supreme courtEdie Windsor outside of the Supreme Court hearing in 2013.JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Despite the progress made in those cases, countless same-sex couples are still denied tax benefits and refunds they should have received before Windsor. Although some same-sex couples were able to amend three years' worth of their tax returns after Windsor, couples who had been married for longer were unable to claim refunds for any of the years beyond that three-year window.

Depriving same-sex couples of the same financial security and stability afforded to different-sex couples is blatantly wrong. In fact, it amounts to a tax on same-sex marriages. That's why we introduced thePromoting Respect for Individuals' Dignity and Equality (PRIDE) Act.

Our legislation has two main objectives: rectifying existing inequity in the tax code. First, it would enable same-sex couples who married before the Windsor decision to amend their tax filings and claim the refunds they should have been entitled to—even though the deadline had passed. Secondly, it would embrace inclusivity by eliminating gendered language in the tax code, including substituting terms like "husband" or "wife" with "spouse." Even though these terms are currently interpreted to be gender-neutral, it is essential to make sure all couples, regardless of sexual or gender identity, are represented and explicitly acknowledged within the tax code.

The PRIDE Act would have concrete positive implications for LGBTQI+ Americans by enabling same-sex couples to retroactively receive the money they are entitled to. Additionally, our bill reaffirms the validity of same-sex marriage under the laws of the United States. It acknowledges the worth and validity of all married couples. By righting the wrongs of the past and ensuring equal treatment for all Americans under the law moving forward, the PRIDE Act also sends a powerful message of inclusivity and acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community.

VOICES Judy Chu Becca Balint PRIDE Act historical lgbtq political actions rally against passing Prop8 making samesex marriage illegal election night San Francisco California November15 2008A rally against passing Prop8 making same-sex marriage illegal, 2008. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We're incredibly proud the PRIDE Act has over 100 cosponsors and is endorsed by the Equality Caucus, the largest caucus in Congress with 196 Members dedicated to advancing LGBTQI+ equality. Despite Republicans' attempts to scapegoat the LGBTQI+ community and turn Americans against its members, achieving full equality and justice for LGBTQI+ Americans and their families will always be a priority for Congressional Democrats.

We never imagined full marriage equality would happen in our lifetimes. It's important to celebrate the strides the LGBTQI+ community has made, including in the Winsor and Obergefell decisions. But there is still so much work to do to achieve full equality. The PRIDE Act promotes economic justice and social equality by addressing disparities within the tax code and providing retroactive relief for same-sex couples. Most importantly, it affirms the dignity and worth of all married couples.

The fight for equal rights is basic respect, freedom, and human dignity. That's what this work is all about and why we'll always be in it.

Rep. Judy Chu represents the 28th Congressional District of California and serves as a Vice Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

Rep. Becca Balint is the first woman and openly LGBTQI+ person to represent Vermont in Congress and Co-Chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

VOICES Judy Chu Becca Balint PRIDE Act lgbtq political alliesRepresentatives Judy Chu and Becca Balint. U.S. House of Representatives

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ and Allied community. Visit Advocate.com/submit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at voices@equalpride.com. Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists and editors, and do not directly represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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