A Second-Class Citizen Muses About His Null and Void Marriage and a History-Making Day
Posted on July 1, 2013
The texts started flowing about a minute after the first Supreme Court decision regarding the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was announced, and they picked back up when Proposition 8 fell as well.
Interestingly, my straight friends were the first out of the gate with their congratulations. Many, not understanding the nature of the ruling, said that they were happy that Bob and I could now legally marry in the United States. We could, but only in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Rather than explain the in's and out's of DOMA in this blog, The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAAD) have a phenomenal fact sheet series that explains the decision on DOMA and what it means where you can learn more.
It's difficult to summarize how I felt hearing the news, because so many different emotions collided at once.
I was relieved. I shed a few tears. Given what had happened with the Voting Rights Act the day before, I found my confidence shaken, and honestly didn't know which way the Court would go. And being a second-class citizen is exhausting.
I was thrilled. I've been saying for the longest time that the train is leaving the station on this issue. On Wednesday, the whistle blew and it departed.
I was proud. Proud of Path2Parenthood's Board of Directors, led by then Co-Chairs Patricia Mendel and Stuart Bell years ago, when we formalized a position statement about the organization's stand on marriage and family equality:
Marriage/Family Building Equality - Path2Parenthood supports the right of people to create a family, including those who are single, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) because we believe that families, in all their diverse forms, strengthen society. This includes supporting marriage equality, adoption, access to assisted reproduction and foster care for LGBT community.
We knew then, that children of LGBT parents do as well as children with straight parents.
We knew then, that marriage strengthens families, regardless of the gender of the parents. It provides security for children, and given that we're a family building organization, helping people find their pathway to having a child and working to make sure that those families are protected is exactly what we're about.
I was also proud of so many people who had fought so long for equal rights, and who, in a few short years, had won the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans on this issue. So much so, 81 % of voters under 30 years of age support marriage equality.
And yet, I was sad. Sad that I didn't live in one of the states where my relationship of over 19 years would be recognized by the state and federal government. The decision transported me back to Valentine's Day Weekend in 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom declared that marriage between same-gender couples was legal in the City and County of San Francisco. Bob and I were living in LA at the time. We put on our suits, hopped a flight, and tied the knot at City Hall. We knew Mayor Newsom's executive order would be revoked, but nothing can really prepare you for a letter stating, "your marriage is null and void." Bob and I were speechless. I think I muttered, "We just don't matter."
Ironically, I was on my way to Los Angeles to host Path2Parenthood's Gay Women's Gathering: An Evening about Lesbian Pregnancy at The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center when the news from the Supreme Court broke on Wednesday. Being in LA for this momentous occasion was electric. And it was deeply gratifying to be in a room with hopeful women, desiring to create their families on that history-making day. I wondered, had marriage been legal when Bob and I were first together, would we have made a different decision about having children? We'll never know the answer, but for the first time, marriage - with all its rights and responsibilities - is legally recognized on a state and federal level in about of one-third of the country.
It's real, and it feels different.
Because we live in Arizona, nothing changed for Bob and me on that day. I understand the profound step forward that this is, but in terms of our own rights, it was just another day. In the eyes of the law, 19 years counts for nothing. We're friends. We still have to travel with thousands of dollars worth of legal documents, with the hope that if, God forbid, something should happen, the paper work we have would be accepted and we'd be allowed to be there for each other.
A lot of my emotions are continuing to collide and I'm still sorting them out.
However, I was heartened by one of the many substantial quotes from the ruling:
"By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect. By this dynamic DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state¬ sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives."
My friends, attorney Rich Vaughn, who is also a Path2Parenthood Board Member, provided a sound analysis that also gave me a measure of comfort. Here's what Rich had to say:
1. Today's decision benefits all LGBT people, no matter where they live, by striking down an overtly discriminatory federal law with no purpose other than to stigmatize same-sex couples and their families.
2. For same-sex couples who are legally married but live in a state that does not respect their marriage, today's decision means that they will be eligible for some, but not all, federal benefits. That is because under current law and policy, some federal spousal benefits turn on whether a marriage was valid where it took place, while others turn on whether a marriage is valid where the applicant or applicants live. This is obviously very unfair, as it means that some same-sex married couples will get all federal benefits, while others will not, simply because of where they live.
3. In light of the current inconsistency and uncertainty with respect to federal benefits, same-sex couples in non-recognition states should proceed with caution before deciding to marry and should make sure that getting married will not disadvantage them. In particular, couples or individuals who are currently getting certain public benefits should be very careful, as getting married may cause them to lose their benefits without getting any of the state protections of marriage, and without getting all of the federal benefits of marriage. They may also be unable to divorce.
4. While today's ruling applied only to DOMA, most of the reasoning and analysis would apply equally to state marriage bans, and it is likely we will see more challenges to those state bans in the coming years and that the Supreme Court will be asked to rule on the constitutionality of all state marriage bans in the not too distant future. Today's decision laid a strong foundation for a future decision striking down discriminatory state marriage bans.
The bottom line is that there is much more work to be done. Path2Parenthood will continue to advocate for marriage and family equality for the LGBT community, as we have always done. We will continue to help women and men struggling with infertility to find their pathway to having a child.
We are all in this together, for better or worse. There's no escaping it. Let's embrace one another and become each other's best advocates for fulfilling our dreams of family.