The Secret Word in the DOMA Supreme Court RulingDeb Rox
Like so many others, I burst into tears as soon as the word “unconstitutional” was published on the SCOTUS Blog on Decision Day. At it’s most simple level, equal federal rights had been denied to me under DOMA, and now it is ruled that denying me those rights was unconstitutional. There is no way to capture how it feels to have that burden lifted, or to describe how heavy the burden was.
I’m neither married nor living in a state that would allow me to marry another woman, so I personally don’t receive any tangible benefits from DOMA being struck down. Edie Windsor is now taxed with justice, others can now have their foreign-born spouses join them in America or can now receive federal benefits due to them as spouses of federal employees. All of that is huge and massively important. But I’m not a federal employee, I’m not married, and my life is materially the same today as it was earlier in the week before the ruling. Nothing changed for me, right?
But everything has changed because of DOMA. Everything changed because of the secret decoder ring word that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote nine times in the majority opinion.
DOMA needed to be struck down on unconstitutionality because, as Kennedy wrote:
The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States. The history of DOMA’s enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute.
Two days later, I’m still reading that paragraph. I’m still tearing up. Dignity. Seeing gay people through the lens of dignity is deeply intertwined with justice, with our acceptance and protection of each other, with a recognition of each other’s humanity and a desire to hold that humanity with esteem and respect. Dignity obliterates oppression and maltreatment. Dignity compels equality.
I knew that oppression weighed down my spirit, of course. I knew that fighting for my dignity internally, with pride (and with Pride celebration) and will activism was essential not only for myself but for all young people who will come after me. But I really didn’t know how big the burden was until it was lifted, until DOMA was declared a violation of constitutional rights, and until dignity was restored.
A huge burden of injustice that injures on a deeply personal level has been removed. I just can’t tell you how much this means. There is still so much to be done: the remaining states need to recognize marriage equality, employment discrimination needs to be addressed, countless laws, policies and social conventions need to evolve. But the foundation is now there, in the concept of equal dignity as affirmed by the Supreme Court. This is history. This is a celebration of justice, long-overdue.
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