Sunday, June 30, 2013
What the SCOTUS Ruling on DOMA Means to Me
The Government Accountability Office estimated there were 1,138 rights, privileges and responsibilities that went along with federally recognized marriage. The Supreme Court ruling that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as it pertained to those rights being denied to legally married same-sex couples, means that those rights are no longer denied to me and my wife simply by virtue of our being a same-sex couple.
We were on vacation in Norway when the ruling was first announced. I had been waiting for it for what seemed like an eternity. I expected it to come at 10 am Washington time on Wednesday, and it did, but I had not told my wife that this was when we would hear. She had already chastised me for watching SCOTUSblog over the past few weeks for fear I would jinx it. So I watched the clock anxiously that day and never told her I was watching the clock.
We got back into our hotel room around 4:20, or 10:20 DC time, and I immediately jumped on Facebook to see what had happened. She sat on the bed, and did the same thing, only she wasn't looking for the results. She thought we would hear the next day, because she thought the rulings were issued at the end of the day. As tears welled up in my eyes, I heard her say, "Wait, what? Did they? No..."
I said, "Honey, we are full citizens."
I didn't get up...I didn't want her to see me crying...and then she came over to me, tears streaming down her face. Neither of us had expected to cry. She had expected them to rule against us...and I had figured they would do what they did but was at the same time afraid to hope for it. I expected I would scream or dance or both.
But we both cried together. Together, apparently, with thousands of other LGBT people who felt finally accepted by their country. Who felt they were finally full citizens. Within minutes, I saw several proposals online, including one from one of my closest friends to her partner of more than 20 years. They had always considered themselves married, and she asked if her partner if she would now marry her legally. Of course she said yes. And I cried again.
What this means for us is that we no longer have to worry about being allowed to make medical decisions for each other. We never have to worry about being able to claim the other's body for burial should the unthinkable happen. We can inherit each other's property and pensions without paying inheritance taxes. We are no longer legal strangers.
We are house hunting in Maryland now, because although we now have a federally-recognized marriage, Virginia still does not have marriage equality. And they could still go things like charge us inheritance taxes on our own home. And force us to continue to file separately at tax time. And it is unclear whether the federal government will use the place of residence or place of ceremony to determine our marital status (the President is pushing for place of ceremony), so it is even possible that as Virginia residents, we would not have our marriage fully recognized by the federal government. So we move north. Besides, as much as I love Northern Virginia, I don't want my taxes subsidizing a state still intent of keeping me as a second-class citizen.
When I head to work tomorrow, it will be with a copy of our marriage license in hand so I can start the process of having the Department recognize us as a married couple and not as "domestic partners" (which we never were). Because we are both employees, this will mean less for us than for some of our friends. Friends who, like many of our straight colleagues, fell in love overseas with non-Americans. They can now petition for green cards and expeditious naturalization for their spouses. I am over the moon happy for them. To say nothing of our friends in the military, who will now get housing appropriate for their families and will have their spouse and not possibly estranged parents and siblings receive notification if they are killed in war. The world has just become fundamentally more fair.
The fight is of course not over. We still can't retire to my beloved South Carolina because they don't recognize our marriage and I won't leave our family unprotected again. And even in my own family, there are still hearts and minds to change. One of my aunts, who I always felt was more like a sister, commented on Facebook that she was sick of hearing about gay marriage and she hoped they all knew they were going to hell anyway. I was devastated...I never knew she felt that way and I have no idea what to say to her. She has always been one of the more supportive of my family members, so I felt really blind-sided by it.
Regardless, for now, I celebrate. For now, I feel like my service to my country, my keeping faith with it when it didn't keep faith with me, was worth it. I am ready to fight the next battles, because they are skirmishes at the end of a war that has already been won.
And those who "lost," lost nothing. This is not the end of freedom in the U.S. It is the beginning of freedom. No state has been forced to recognize marriage equality (though I think they should...76% of the country "wasn't ready" for interracial marriage when the court ruled on that issue in Loving v Virginia, and the court did the right thing anyway. And the sky did not fall). No minister will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage. No person will be forced to marry a person of the same sex. But people who do choose to marry someone of the same sex, as I and thousands of others have, in states that have chosen to make those unions legal, will finally be able to protect their families.
And that means everything.