Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down what I consider to be a landmark ruling on gay rights. In a 5-4 decision, the Justices struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented the Federal government from extending the same rights to LGBT married couples as enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. This affects everyone who lives in a state where LGBT marriage is legal, and in states that will extend this right in the future. That means that tax breaks, pension benefits and more than 1,000 other benefits recognized under Federal Law will be extended. The Court also refused to rule on a lower court ruling regarding Proposition 8 in California, a decision that will allow LGBT marriages in California to continue.
While some may say that the Court did not go far enough, I feel that these decisions are momentous and my first, unbridled reaction was tears. Tears of what exactly I can’t say, but the swell of emotion was extreme.
Like many gay people, especially of a certain age, growing up gay wasn’t easy. Repression, self-loathing and social ostracism are all part of the fun for gay adolescents, and it absolutely shaped the person I am today. Even though I’ve been with my partner for 11 years, there is still a part of me that’s cautious about which pronouns I use with strangers, the terminology I utilize and of course how we interact in public. Most of this probably isn’t necessary, but it’s all part of that fear with which I grew up.
Upon hearing the news this morning I cried a deep and soulful cry, the kind that comes from the bottom of your heart. I felt lighter, I felt better as a lot of that fear was shed off almost instantly. I didn’t even know I had something that needed discarding, not until it sloughed off like a discarded blanket. It may sound silly, but to have so many people and now my government telling me that I am worthy of the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals is extraordinary.
My partner and I aren’t married, although we could be. We live in a state that legalized it and should we choose to get married, the Federal government would now have to recognize us. A year ago when returning home from vacation, we approached the immigration officer at Dulles International Airport together, like married couples are allowed to do. Even after explaining ourselves I was told, very rudely, to get back in line until they were done with my partner. It’s a thousand acts of subtle digs that will now disappear that make this decision so important. It makes me feel freer and absolutely happier.
There is still a lot of work to do of course. Many states do not recognize gay marriage, and that needs to change. But in a country where 13 of the states (plus Washington, DC) DO recognize it, where the military recognizes it and now the Federal government recognizes it, these states don’t stand a chance. All they’re doing is putting off the inevitable as our long, painful struggle for simple recognition as human beings is realized.
So yes, I am happy. I’m thrilled actually, but mindful of the fact that many have made great sacrifices in order for this day to become a reality and that is something I hope none of us ever take for granted.
Now, who wants to buy me wedding presents?