A victory for same-sex marriage rights

By ANN MONTAGUE

On June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. This legislation was promoted and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and denies any of the over 1100 federal benefits to same-sex couples.

The Court’s 5-4 majority decision was clear and simple. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy described DOMA as imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.” This, he said, violates the right to liberty and equal protection under the law.

The decision means that in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal, those couples will qualify for all federal benefits currently available to heterosexual couples. Other states, however, may still define “marriage” as they choose.

The Supreme Court also tossed out California’s Proposition 8 on technical grounds, which let stand the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals in regard to a legal suit against the referendum measure. If Prop. 8 had been allowed to become state law, it would have revoked the right of same-sex couples to have their marriages recognized in California. The governor immediately said that his administration would begin processing marriage applications as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms that the stay has been lifted.

Nadine Smith of Equality Florida spoke for many when she posted a video saying, “We are left out and left behind.” But these two decisions are still victories that should be celebrated.

For those of us who never would have chosen gay marriage as a defining issue of our movement, the fact is that huge members of our brothers and sisters did choose it. There was a mass movement in our community and they were energized around an act of civil disobedience.

I was living in a small coastal town in Oregon when the mayor of San Francisco in 2004 directed city offices to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of state law. My first thought was, “That’s nice.” But I soon saw that something else was happening as I watched the huge numbers of people line up and wait for hours to fill out their paperwork. And then couples in my small town and elsewhere in Oregon would call me and say, “We are going to San Francisco and wait in line as long as it takes.”

It had become a mass movement of people standing up for equality and against discrimination. Surely, ending employment discrimination was more important. But Marriage Equality was moving people, a lot of people. In the beginning there were no major LGBT organizations, NGOs, or self-serving politicians creating this movement.

After the decisions were announced, it was encouraging to watch the interviews with the plaintiffs, lawyers, and demonstrators who all spoke about the people in the 38 states that are left out of these decisions. There was also talk about the “momentum” that these decisions have created for other issues—first and foremost, the pressure to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).

For at least two people, the Supreme Court decisions had an immediate effect. Within 30 minutes of the DOMA ruling, a New York City immigration judge stopped deportation proceedings for a Columbian man married to a gay U.S. citizen.