When I was ten years old, and Bill Clinton was president, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a law known as the Defense of Marriage Act. The law was passed as a reaction to Hawaii’s assertion at the time that nothing prevented them from marrying gay couples and making same-sex marriage into legal contractual affairs identical to straight marriages. It was viewed as a “compromise” by Clinton, who now says that he signed the law to prevent even harsher laws from being passed that would have been even worse for gay couples.
In any case, it has been seventeen years since the Defense of Marriage Act went into effect. All the while, gay marriage has been legalized in twelve states and the District of Columbia, creating two classes of married couples. Straight couples enjoyed federal tax benefits, Social Security retirement funds, and a wide range of other perks after their marriages. For gay couples in certain states, though, their state-sanctioned marriage was met with a blind eye at the federal level. Gay couples for years have paid more in taxes, been unable to collect their partner’s Social Security benefits, or even visit each other in hospitals.
That has all begun to change, though, especially with the Supreme Court’s ruling today that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court noted that the law was harmful to children and families, unenforceable based on the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, and a gross and egregious power-grab by the mid-90s legislators who authored it. After that ruling, the court took the actions necessary in a separate case to restore marriage equality to California.
The result is not a sweeping, nationwide right to marriage for same-sex couples, but it is still profound. As of today, gay couples have federal legal protections that are absolutely essential for the financial benefit of the couple and the legal protection of the family unit. As of today, the pressure will be on to legalize same-sex marriage in the remaining states where that has not already happened.
The movement for gay equality, the great civil rights movement of the last two generations, advanced in a major way today. And it was all led by Temple University alumna Edith Windsor, a woman whose courage is incalculable and whose fight against this bigoted law was northing short of inspirational. The future is bright for those of us who wish for an equal future. And it just feels so good to win. Finally.
For the past two years, K and I have resided in the state of Delaware. The state variously bills itself as a “small wonder” and the “first state.” The road signs that greet visitors along Delaware’s borders note that “it’s good being first.” The problem, though, is that for the past two years Korey and I have felt that Delaware was not the first, but more the last, place that we wanted to live for a prolonged period of time.
We were both raised in neighboring Pennsylvania, a large, influential, and wealthy state with large urban centers and forward-thinking residents. It was only after we moved to Delaware that we realized this “small wonder” was indeed quite small, but not quite as wonderful as the tourism slogans would have most people believe. We were greeted with small-minded, anti-gay behavior within our first few months here. The math curriculum taught by my significant other gave him fits and virtually prohibited him from using his most impressive educational talents.
On top of it all, my pursuit of a marketing position was hampered by the relatively small size of Delaware and the large commuting distance between this city and Wilmington, in the northern part of the state. The distance between ourselves and our friends made for some very boring times on occasion, and we realized that our interests would best be served by relocating back to the Keystone State that allowed us to become the “arrogant” “snobs” that so many people here perceive us to be.
For the past several months, K has been applying for teaching positions in southeastern Pennsylvania and I have been making the preparations needed to relocate my business back to our native part of the country. It is with a great deal of pride that I can announce K’s hiring at Downingtown School District. We will be departing Delaware in August to be closer to our friends, our families, and our professional goals.
Delaware was never seen as a long-term option for either of us, but our departure from this “first state” is sooner than originally planned. Even so, it’s an exciting time for us both and we can’t wait to settle into our new home in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
In the United States, June is LGBT History Month. At least, it has been under our last two Democratic presidents. It’s also the month that features the highest concentration of pride parades around the country, including Capital Pride in DC, Philly Pride in Philadelphia, and NYC Pride in Manhattan.
The year that has elapsed since the last slate of gay pride parades has been a legendary one here in the United States where it seems society is finally willing to take a leadership role in the fight to give gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals equal rights and equitable protections under the law. In just the month of May alone, three states moved ahead with marriage equality. Today, a full 25 percent of all states allow same-sex unions.
The Supreme Court is poised to deliver decisions later this month regarding the legality of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8, and the Defense of Marriage Act seems to be all but overturned by the same court in a separate decision that will quickly follow the Prop 8 news. A slim and growing majority of Americans nationwide support marriage equality, while a vast majority of Americans support recognition of same-sex relationships in the form of marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. A large majority of Americans also support workplace anti-discrimination laws and hate crime protections for their LGBT peers.
This is big news. Really, this is huge. During 2004, when I was able to cast my vote for the first time, anti-gay marriage amendments passed in every state where they were on the ballot. Other states passed anti-gay marriage statutes. Hate crimes were a daily problem and a pressing threat. And no president had ever endorsed same-sex marriage, not by a long shot. It should be noted, however, that the battle is far from over.
A full 75 percent of states do not currently support legal gay marriages, nor do they recognize such unions done in states where the practice is legal. Many states still don’t offer same-sex protections from employment discrimination and hate crime targeting. It’s likely that the Supreme Court decision concerning Prop 8 won’t make marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states. And violence against the gay community continues to be a threat as those opposed to gay Americans lash out in the face of civil rights gains.
This year, let’s celebrate the growing acceptance of the LGBT community nationwide. Let’s dance in the streets as equals where the law finally recognizes us as such, in New York and Delaware and Maryland and Washington and Minnesota and DC and scores of other states. But let’s remember that, once the booze is cleaned up and the confetti is swept away, there are battles to be fought, court cases to win, and rights still to be secured for millions of Americans who don’t have the benefit of living on the coast.