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Putting Marriage Up for a Vote

Update (Nov. 7, 2012): Minnesota voters rejected the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman during the General Election Nov. 6. The measure required a simple majority, however, 51.3 percent of voters opposed the amendment and 1 percent did not answer the question on the ballot.

Tomorrow, Minnesota will be one of four states to vote on an issue related to same-sex marriage. Thirty states currently have constitutional amendments on the books defining marriage as between one man and one woman, the same definition of marriage Minnesota voters are considering. Among those speaking out against the measure is the Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS®.

In June, MAAR’s board of directors passed a resolution—which they announced in a public statement last Tuesday—opposing the Minnesota 2012 Definition of Marriage Amendment. It’s believed to be the first time a REALTOR® association has taken a position on a constitutional marriage amendment, according to NAR archivists. NAR does not have a position on marriage equality.

Excerpt from MAAR’s resolution:

MAAR supports fair housing access, as well as fair and equal access to all the rights, benefits and privileges granted through homeownership. While LGBT people are not prevented from buying or selling real estate in Minnesota today, nor will they be as a result of the proposed amendment, the fact remains that non-legally married couples do not have the same access to the benefits and privileges of shared homeownership as married people.

The motivation for MAAR’s opposition is the nearly 100 laws in Minnesota affecting home ownership rights for those in a relationship or union not legally recognized by the state, says Mark Allen, CEO of MAAR. “That creates an environment where inequitable situations need to be addressed,” he says.

In fact, one of the current legal challenges facing DOMA — the federal Defense of Marriage Act established in 1996 that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman — is directly rooted in housing. The case of Windsor v. United States, which could make its way to the Supreme Court, is contesting the federal estate tax against same-sex spouses.

In 2007, New York resident Edith Windsor married her longtime partner, Thea Spyer, in Canada, where same-sex marriage has been legally recognized since 2005. Spyer died in 2009, and Windsor inherited her assets, including the couple’s home. Yet she faced an estate tax of $363,053 because she is not seen as a legal spouse in the U.S. Just last month, on Oct. 18, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2 to 1 in favor of Windsor, finding DOMA in violation of equal protections for same-sex married couples in New York, and, therefore, unconstitutional.

“Associations do take positions on social issues – discrimination in housing is a social issue and this is another phase of this type of issue,” said Allen. “We took a position when NAR was revisiting the Code of Ethics to add equal protections for sexual orientation.”

Article 10 of NAR’s Code of Ethics states that REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, or sexual orientation.

MAAR has always been at the forefront of social issues related to housing, says Allen, and on promoting ethics in real estate. The term REALTOR® was even coined in Minnesota by a practitioner who wanted to set NAR members apart from non-professionals attempting to ply the trade.

Attorney Camilla Taylor with Lambda Legal in Chicago said that the helpdesk at her firm is constantly getting calls from same-sex couples who own homes in states that prevent them from marrying.

“We get calls from people who face discrimination when it comes to public housing, and we get calls from the other end of the spectrum, from people facing tax discrimination,” said Taylor. “Our home is so crucial to our lives and is crucial to our quality of life in a community.”

Allen said that in addition to discrepancies in home ownership benefits, MAAR also opposes the marriage amendment because it potentially jeopardizes the Twin Cities in terms of industry and jobs.

“Minnesota has a very diverse economy and a strong tech industry. Passage of this amendment will create what some people are calling ‘Minnesota mean.’ And in a region that has a strong creative class, that’s not a good thing,” said Allen.

The Twin Cities finds itself in direct job competition with such cities as Boston, Milwaukee, Hartford/Bridgeport, Conn., San Jose, Calif., Philadelphia, and New York in the industries of biosciences, renewable energies, education, financial and insurance institutions, healthcare, and creative services.  Among those areas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York have legalized same-sex marriage (California also recognizes the 18,000 same-sex couples who were married prior to passing Proposition 8.)

“It always takes courage to go outside the norm when it comes to endorsements of any kind because that endorsement is not going to be popular with all its constituents or members,” says Ginger Downs, CEO of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. “They have determined there’s a tie to their housing market, and it seems they’ve thought it through.”

The battle over same-sex marriage in Minnesota has also been one of high dollars — a combined $16 million has been contributed on both sides of the campaign, but opponents of the amendment have outraising supporters two-to-one. Minnesotans United for All Families has raised $11.1 million in contributions opposing the amendment, while Minnesota for Marriage has raised a little more than $5 million in support of the amendment.

Since 1998, there have been 31 votes in 30 states on the definition of marriage — with the exception of Arizona in 2006, voters passed the ballot measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. However, Arizona voters later went on to approve a same-sex marriage ban in 2008.

Minnesota voters who vote “no” on the marriage amendment are voting not to ratify their state constitution defining marriage between and man and a woman. Legislation would still need to be passed in order to legally recognize same-sex marriage in the state.

Examples of Minnesota laws that directly relate to housing rights and marriage:

  • The “heirs” of a deceased individual include a surviving spouse. A same-sex partner is not automatically an heir in the absence of a will.
  • If an individual’s spouse continues to live in the couple’s primary residence, then the homestead is not counted as a part of the individual’s assets for purposes of determining whether an individual will qualify for medical assistance. The homestead is not exempt if the same-sex partner is living in the homestead.
  • The state may file a claim against the estate of a medical assistance recipient unless the person leaves a surviving spouse. When there is a surviving spouse, the claim is deferred, in which case the state may file claim against the estate of the surviving spouse. No similar deferment is provided for a same-sex partner who is living in the homestead of the decedent.
  • A medical assistance lien cannot be enforced against a homestead while a spouse resides therein. The same is not true for a same-sex partner residing in the homestead of his or her partner.
  • Property passing to a surviving spouse in trust will not bear the estate-tax burden. The same is not true if a testamentary trust is established for a same-sex partner.
  • An individual may rely on his or her spouse’s credit score to qualify for a loan granted to the two as a couple. A same-sex partner does not receive this benefit and must rely on his or her own individual credit scores when qualifying for a loan.
  • If a married person is entitled to a property tax refund and dies, the surviving spouse may file a claim for the refund. A same-sex partner does not have a similar right to file a claim for a refund.
  • A real estate broker or agent must disclose in writing if he or she works for a relative in a real estate transaction. No disclosure is required if the broker or agent is working for a same-sex partner.

Erica Christoffer

Erica Christoffer is a multimedia journalist and senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at echristoffer@realtors.org.

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Comments
  1. Gary

    It is my beliefe as a paying member of the NAR, that ALL NAR Organizations, should Stand Nuetral on ANY amendment where Civil and Personal rights are concerned. By this Opposition in MN the MAAR is now acting as a borderline civil rights activist group. I understand that several things are on the line, however, the LGBT community is growing and with beginning rebellion I fear we will eventually have more issues. It is the job, I feel as a member, of NAR and its affiliate memberships to help the American people at ANY cost to achieve “home ownership”.

  2. Randy

    I would echo Gary’s comment that every man and woman in the US has an opinion but it is inappropriate for any NAR organization to support or oppose as an organization

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