I’m feeling happy and hopeful about the Obama administration decision not to defend a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Finally, we have a concrete development on the federal level that pushes us in the direction of marriage equality.
The Obama administration decision stems, in part, from an ACLU case featuring a remarkable lesbian plaintiff, Edie Windsor, who recently lost her partner of 44 years. In the midst of grieving, Windsor was forced to pay heavy inheritance taxes because DOMA forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex spouses.
The DOMA decision is a huge, symbolic victory. It marks the first time that the federal government has said that courts should review anti-gay laws with a higher level of scrutiny and skepticism. As it stands now, anti-gay laws are essentially presumed to be constitutional. Which is why we still have so many of them on the books—anti-marriage equality laws, anti-gay parenting laws, etc.
The decision does not trigger any immediate, concrete change. A court needs to agree with the Obama administration first, and it will take a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to trigger change across the country. All sorts of court challenges are in the works but could take years before a final outcome.
I’m guessing lots of average, non-gay people would be surprised to know anti-gay laws have been deemed perfectly acceptable in court after court across the country. It reminds me of Gretchen’s post about how love doesn’t really make a family. If a law treats gay people differently than straight people, it’s likely discriminatory and unconstitutional, right? So far, for most courts, the answer is a big fat no.
It feels really good to have the Obama administration put some force behind what should be common sense.
The president seems to have finally acknowledged a truth played out at the Proposition 8 trial in California last summer: Virtually all of the arguments advanced to deny gay couples the right to marry are based on moral animus and junk science, rooted in discredited cases like Bowers v. Hardwick and in unfounded bias that is increasingly hard to defend in open court. As professor Suzanne Goldberg of Columbia Law School put it today: “This is a spectacular and long-awaited acknowledgment by the federal government that there is no good reason for treating gay and nongay people differently, especially when it comes to recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples.”
The Obama administration action helps us get a bit closer to the day when all of this means something concrete for my family.
Relative to many gay people, I’m in a fortunate position. I’m not poor so I don’t disproportionately suffer the consequences of the closet, I have a supportive family, and I’ve had the resources and wherewithal to help me undo the early years of psychological harm most of us experience. By the time I was 30, I had a partner I loved and a newborn baby. This may not seem noteworthy for your average hetero, but in the scheme of gay life in the U.S, the life I’ve been able to live is breath taking.
That’s not to say I’m settling. Precisely because I emerged relatively unscathed from the homophobia of the laws and culture all around us, I want more.
Although I’m wedding-phobic and dislike lots of the cultural trappings of marriage, I’m waiting for the day when Travis and I are able to be legally married.
I want our family to be recognized as a family and not be confronted with daily reminders that we’re not.
I want to be able to file a joint tax form (this is foremost on my mind because I just finished a torturous process of figuring out our separate returns).
I don’t want to have to pay extra taxes because my domestic partner health coverage is considered taxable income.
It’s too late for my family, but I want other gay couples forming families to be recognized as fully and jointly parents of their children. Without having to go to extra lengths, pay thousands of dollars in legal fees, and still feel insecure about the integrity of their family in the eyes of the law and community institutions.
And I want all of this to happen by the time my kid(s) are old enough to fully understand these matters of equality and discrimination. The exciting thing is: the legal changes just might happen by that time.