Monday, March 25, 2013

SCOTUS hears Prop 8 and DOMA cases

People camped out to get a seat to hear the oral arguments before the SCOTUS on Tues and Wed.
If you want to consider the history of same sex marriage in the US, you have to go back in time pretty much to the founding of the country. (Fun fact: The only known conviction for lesbianism in American History happened in 1649 in Plymouth Colony- Sarah White Norman and Mary Vincent Hammon were prosecuted for "lewd behavior with each other upon a bed". Sweet!!!)

You have to go back at least to the early 1900's when suffragettes fought for and earned the right to vote (a few of them were making sweet whoopy with each other while they got it done).  You have to go back to the 50's and 60s and 70's: The eras of "Pinko commie" McCarthyism and the sexual revolution and long-haired-hippy anarchy.

You'd have to go back to the 80's: when gay men were dying all over the place.  HIV and AIDS decimated the community and then parents and relatives (many of whom had rejected their gay sons) would come in and take possessions and property that was left behind.  Such emotional and devastating circumstances of course had been a regular part of the lives of gay and lesbian couples in every time and century.  But the magnitude of the AIDS crisis and the way it required a community to mobilize into activism to literally stay alive and protect each other at the last moments of life changed something in the collective psyche of LGBT Americans.
That was the real beginning of marriage equality in my mind... Because as most married people will tell you, you don't need marriage benefits to get to feel the passion or the love, for the joy of the dance, to experience the fineness of wine or the deliciousness of cake.  You don't need marriage, for the age of Aquarius... You need it for what happens after happily ever after.

You need marriage for when your lover has died in your arms after a year of declining health that culminated with him shitting his insides out in the bed you used to have carefree sex in; and his parents want to know when you will be moving out.
You need marriage when they prohibit the only people who know and love you from visiting your ICU room.
You need marriage for when they try to deport the woman you love.
You need marriage for when some bullshit happens one day and two skyscrapers crumble to the ground and your kid's other dad (the one who brought home the bacon) disappears in a cloud of filthy dust.
You need marriage for when someone becomes disabled, or slips a disc, or gets cancer or the gay plague. 

Marriage is what allows you access to 1138 federal rights, benefits, and protections.  (And I'm not even including the stupid, helpful ones like getting a "family membership rate" at a gym or health club.)

Someone once told me, "Marriage is not so much about who you want to be with for the rest of your life, but who you don't want to be without..."

When Katy and I first met in the fall of 1999, the state of Vermont was 3 months away from allowing same sex couples to enter into a Marriage-like contract called a civil union.  So, even for us- the lucky ones- the ones that never doubted our self-worth and never experienced rejection by our family or friends- when we met, the idea that we might get married and/or be a (legal) family, that was a construct that did not exist.  That was something we would have to "fake" and/or "make up".

On May 17, 2004 (Four months and 1 day before we had a non-legal church wedding with 150 guests) the commonwealth of MA started allowing couples of the same gender to marry.
It wasn't a "civil union" like Vermont had made famous.  It was the actual, M-F'ing thing!!!

Except there was a problem... in 1991 (before I even knew I was gay)  3 same sex Hawaiian couples sued the dept of public health to be allowed to marry.  The case went all the way to the state's supreme court who ruled in favor of the plaintiffs- it ruled that the prohibition of gay marriage was unconstitutional.  And all manner of backlash followed.  Hawaii changed it's constitution to prevent marriage equality.  And the federal government passed a law that essentially said, "If a state passes a law allowing gays to get married, the federal government will NOT recognize those marriages."
The ironically named "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA)  had 117 co-sponsors and only 81 "no" votes out of 508 votes cast in the house and senate.  Bill Clinton signed without hesitation.  That is to say this was about as bipartisan a bill as we get to see these days...

Hindsight is 20/20.  I don't know how long people thought it would take for
1) A state to legalize same sex marriage and
2) For a legal challenge to DOMA to reach the SCOTUS, but that day is here (16 years, 6 months and 5 days later).

The remarkable thing, though, is not the 16-250 years it took to get us here.  The remarkable thing is what has happened in the last 4- 6 months.  You should know, as someone who's life will be directly impacted by what the Supreme court decides related to prop 8 and DOMA, I was nervous when they announced last fall they would be hearing the case this year.  I just thought, "It might be too soon."

History will be on our side, but if SCOTUS rules that prop 8 should stand or that DOMA is constitutional, it will be a LOOOOOOOOOOONG time to undo that nonsense.  In November, the voters of four different states voted either to enact marriage equality or to defeat a prohibition of it... That had NEVER happened before in the US.  Though several states had legalized same sex marriage, they did it either through the courts or through the legislatures.  Before the 2012 election, voters had been asked to vote on same sex marriage 30 times in 30 states and NOT ONE TIME until last November did the majority vote for marriage equality.  There are many who think that equal rights should not be put to a popular vote (include me in those numbers) BUT it is significant (understatement) that support for marriage equality is starting to become the majority opinion...

My wife and I got married in 2004 (non-legal, non binding church wedding).
We got a civil union, the first day we were legally able October 1, 2005.
And 5 years later, marriage equality was enacted in CT.  At that point our civil union passively converted into a (ta-da!) marriage.

10 states have enacted marriage equality since 2004 (CT, DC, IA, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, VT, WA).
The sitting president of the United States has come out in favor of marriage equality; and the Democratic National Party added marriage equality to it's platform. And literally in the last month, the scales have tipped and public opinion polls are showing for the first time, a MAJORITY of Americans believe that SS couples should be treated equal under the law.

And tomorrow... the SCOTUS hears oral arguments.  People have been waiting in line since Thursday morning to get a seat.  Families like ours are crossing our hearts, holding our breaths and whispering prayers (while still trying to take care of our homes and our kids, like everyone else that doesn't have to consider their legal standing as a family on a daily basis.)

At issue:
1) The Prop 8 case - Is is legal to vote on civil right as related to marriage equality? if not, does that apply to only the California case? or does it apply to all states that have put these rights to a vote via ballot measure? 

2) The DOMA challenge - Is DOMA constitutional? Shouldn't federal and state governments have to treat all married couples equally?  Specifically, should the federal govt have penalized 83 year old Edith Windsor $360,000 in estate/inheritance tax when her wife, Thea died. (if Thea was her husband, that tax would not have been levied).  If DOMA is unconstitutional, does that apply only to the federal government? or do states that have their own DOMA laws also have to rectify the problem?

[A handy schematic]

I'm known to get a little fired up about marriage equality...
You should see what we have to do to get our taxes done (and by "WE" i mean "Katy").
- We have to prepare a federal joint tax return so that we can use that to file a joint state tax return.
- Then we have to prepare a "married filing jointly" state tax return.
- Then we have to imagine how our finances would look if we were not a couple, not a family and create a "fake" financial picture to complete our TWO "actual" federal "single" tax return filings.

So, yeah, I'm "excited" and fired up that this might be the last time we have to do "that" (and by that I mean LIE ON A FEDERAL FORM AND SAY I AM SINGLE, MOM, HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD WHO IS LIVING WITH [BUT NOT MARRIED TO] ANOTHER SINGLE, UNWED MOM...

But the surprising thing is, I'm really quite emotional about it.  (Read: Choked up)
I'm really quite hopeful (and only a little scared) that this court will support our rights as a couple and a family and parents.  It's hard to describe and explain because I swear to you I know in my heart that I am every bit as worthy as any other citizen, but after a good long ten years of the public debate of whether or not you have the right to exist as a family, it does get tired and hurtful and if this could possibly be the END of that???  I'd just be happy to consume myself with other, more mundane things.
In the last 10 years, the haters have had a lot of opportunity to gloat.
The courts keep ruling against them, but trust me when I tell you this is nerve-wracking.  The cases will be made tomorrow and Wednesday; the decisions won't come down before June.  But tomorrow, we will be figuratively standing there, forcing them to look us in the eyes and say it...
Go ahead, say it... 
Are we equal? Or are we 2nd class? 
Are we still too "yucky" to get access to Cobra and Social security and Military survivor-ship benefits? 
Will we have to wait another 16 to 20 years carefully explaining to our kids some convoluted version of the truth- that it's okay to trust and serve a society and a government that allows discrimination and bullying to be enshrined into state constitutions and federal regulations?

Or will it somehow (as if by magic) be decreed that we can move on to other fights, other debates.
That equal is equal.
That our relationships are worthy of that legal acknowledgment that comes only with "marriage"?

Hold your breath, this is going to be one of the big ones...

1 comment:

Lauren Kellnhauser said...

You ARE equal. Your post brought tears to my eyes. And believe it or not, as a straight woman, I have to tell the same convoluted version of the truth to my kids. Even if they or our family is not discriminated against, I cannot let them think it's okay to discriminate against yours.