It may take some time, but like all good things, it is worth the wait.
Seventeen years ago, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was born. I was a senior in high school, not yet out even though I knew I was gay in the third grade, which is when I fell in puppy love with the girl up the street. She took my heart at a young age, and unknowingly carried it with her for years. In fact, she still has a piece of it, as all those I’ve ever loved do.
On the surface, DOMA may not have initially seemed so horrible in 1996. “Marriage is between one man and one woman” was very much the accepted thought at the time, and even still is today in certain pockets of this country. And you’re free to believe so. But the real trouble with DOMA began rearing its ugly head over the years.
By creating this federal definition of marriage, gay and lesbian married couples living in states with marriage equality were denied over 1,100 rights and protections granted by federal recognition of their marriage. And if you know anything about America, you know that rights are at the core of everything this country stands for.
But it wasn’t just about rights, as big of a deal as they are. It was also about what denying those rights says to gay and lesbian people including gay and lesbian children.
When I married my wife in my home state of New York in 2011 (photo in this post was taken the day we tied the knot) and began talks about starting a family, I began to feel the seething breath of DOMA. While my marriage hadn’t changed or affected a single straight marriage, DOMA was affecting my marriage. For federal purposes, I had to still be listed on payroll as “single.” For federal purposes, I had to file my state taxes jointly and my federal taxes separately, costing us over $2,000 that we wouldn’t have had to pay if 1) my spouse was a man or 2) the federal government recognized my state marriage.
DOMA made more work for the staff in my payroll department; it made my accountant’s job way more difficult; and it cost the American taxpayers over $3 million to defend the ridiculous and discriminatory law.
But these were all technicalities of DOMA. These were the nitty-gritty redtape obstacles DOMA created. And while, at the end of the day, DOMA was defeated because it was deemed unconstitutional (specifically, “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”), DOMA did something far worse than deny me my federal rights.
DOMA told people it was okay to think gays were less-than. DOMA sent a loud-and-clear message to America about the gay community that we are unworthy; that we don’t deserve the protections of this country; and that our relationships aren’t real.
DOMA said it and others repeated it over the years. In pulpits. In Senate chambers. In boardrooms. At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On cable TV. On school buses. In playgrounds. In songs. In homes.
Our powerful government, by way of DOMA, gave others a rock to throw at gays. And while this ruling will hardly eradicate homophobia overnight, that rock has been taken away because we all know that this isn’t how big kids play. We don’t demean others for who they are. We don’t deny rights because someone else is so insecure that they’re made uncomfortable by love. We don’t say, “These rights are for you, but you over there can’t have any.” That isn’t America.
This. This is America.
(Note for those who don’t fully understand what today’s ruling means: The Supreme Court’s decision that DOMA is unconstitutional does not mean that marriage equality is now U.S. law. It simply means that marriages in states where marriage equality already exists are now recognized by the federal government, which, in turn, means that those marriages get the same rights and protections afforded to all other marriages.)
Photo credit: Tamme Stitt Photography
Read more of Aela’s writing at Two Moms Make a Right
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