Like many people, I was thrilled when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. I was glad for the gay couples I know, and relieved that our country has given same-sex partners access to benefits others have—long overdue equal treatment.
Unlike many people, I have a whole other reason to be happy. As the parent of a kid with special needs, I am all for anything that proclaims people in this country are all equals. My son, Max, has cerebral palsy, and I ache for him to grow up in a more accepting world. This is a major step forward in that direction.
It’s been said that disability prejudice is the only kind still tolerated. To be sure, people who are gay, people of color and minorities get hated on—sometimes, in shocking ways. But there is much awareness surrounding these issues, major groups out there raising attention and promoting tolerance. These matters are part of the public discourse. Even as haters hate in their hearts, they may know enough to let their bigot flag fly out of fear of social recrimination.
In my experience, it’s not so with prejudice against people who have disabilities. Perhaps it’s because people may not consider it prejudice. Like the camp that informed me they have never had a child with cerebral palsy before and couldn’t handle my son—even though the camp director had never met him. Like the boat captain who wouldn’t let us on an afternoon fishing jaunt the other day because he saw Max whimpering; although my husband and I explained he has sensory issues and that he’d adjust, we were told he could “ruin” the entire cruise. I hear similar stories from other special needs parents, most recently from a mom whose child with autism wasn’t accepted in a dance program because the mother would have needed to stay in the class to help.
Our country’s attitude toward epithets is similarly troubling. As The Food Network’s firing of Paula Deen showed, racist slurs will not be tolerated. Pretty much the only acceptable epithet out there is the word “retard,” which originated from the term “mental retardation.” Over the years, as the word “retarded” became pejorative, government agencies, organizations and medical experts have replaced the term with “intellectual disability.” And yet, the word “retard” continues to be widely used as an insult, a synonym for “stupid” and “loser.” Parents like me who’ve spoken out about it—because we do not want our kids equated with the words “stupid” and “loser”—have gotten flack for being overly sensitive.
Obviously, equal treatment of gay couples will not translate to equal treatment for those with disabilities. As if. But the decision to overturn DOMA sends a strong message: It says that we live in a society in which we consider people of all beliefs and persuasions equal under the law. It says intolerance is not acceptable. It says the “norm” can include all kinds of people.
It gives me hope.
So I’m celebrating the Supreme Court decision as both a major victory for same-sex marriage and for American equality in general. A world in which nobody is denied rights or respect because of who they are is a promising place for my son to be.
Image: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue