Today was a landmark moment for gay people in the United States. It was historical. In some ways, it was hysterical. It was historical in that the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down as unconstitutional. It was hysterical in that opponents of same-sex marriage are still acting high and mighty.
The Supreme Court issued two very close decisions today. The first one was a sweeping victory in that the federal Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 defining marriage as between a man and a woman was abolished. The second one was a little more murky regarding California’s Proposition 8, which passed a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.
Here’s an excerpt from the majority opinion on DOMA, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy:
“DOMA divests married same-sex couples of the duties and responsibilities that are an essential part of married life and that they in most cases would be honored to accept were DOMA not in force. For instance, because it is expected that spouses will support each other as they pursue educational opportunities, federal law takes into consideration a spouse’s income in calculating a student’s federal financial aid eligibility. See 20 U. S. C. §1087nn(b). Same-sex married couples are exempt from this requirement.”
Now here’s a dissenting opinion from Justice Antonin Scalia, who felt this case should never have hit the highest court level in America:
“This case is about power in several respects. It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.”
Scalia makes an interesting point, albeit for the wrong reason. People should be allowed to govern themselves, which means if they want to be married and have the same benefits that other married couple do, they should. If a church doesn’t want to marry a same-sex couple, that’s fine. If that couple finds someone to marry them, then they should be allowed to get those tax breaks and hospital visitations and other legal mumbo-jumbo that heterosexual couples are allowed to enjoy under the law.
The good news is that the DOMA repeal allows couples in the 12 states and Washington D.C. that permit same-sex marriage will allow those gay and lesbian lovers to get the same federal benefits that heterosexual couples in all 50 states enjoy. As for the other 38, it’s not happening yet.
While it appears that Prop. 8 is also abolished, that only paves the way for California. The only reason that case was tossed back to the lower courts was because the justices determined the defendants bringing the case forward did not have the right to do so. The case needed to be brought forward by either California’s governor or attorney general. Right now, Democrats occupy both seats, so it’s unlikely they will try to shaft the same-sex couples, no pun intended.
However, there are rumblings by proponents of same-sex marriage that today’s actions will give a shot in the arm for efforts to allow marriage for all in the remaining 38 states. Here’s what Chad Griffin, president for the Human Rights Campaign, had to say about making same-sex marriage legal in every state:
“Today’s historic decisions put two giant cracks in the dark wall of discrimination that separates committed gay and lesbian couples from full equality. While we celebrate the victory for Californians today, tomorrow we turn our attention to the millions of LGBT people who don’t feel the reach of these decisions. From the Rocky Mountains to the heart of the South, it’s time to push equality forward until every American can marry the person they love and all LGBT people are guaranteed equal protection under the law.”
It’s not the happy ending we were all looking for, but it’s a sign that the story is far from over. I’m not breaking out the champagne, but it’s still a cause for celebration. The Supreme Court could have easily said DOMA and Prop. 8 were just fine and set the movement for gay rights back a few decades, but it’s still a sign that someday we can love any person we want and marry that person if that love stands the test of time.
One of my favorite singers, Tom Goss, posted an excellent message on his Facebook page that summed up what all this has been about:
“I didn’t get married to get state or federal benefits. I got married because Michael Briggs has healed, loved and nurtured me in ways that are beyond words. That said, knowing that our marriage is federally recognized is amazing, something we never would have imagined 10/2/10. I am humbled by everyone’s hard work to accomplish. Simply amazing.”
It’s all about love and allowing that love to be valid. That’s all it has ever been about. I hope for the day when my boyfriend and I will be able to get married and no one can question it because there’s not a woman in the equation.