This year has been a whirlwind, when it’s come to progress and the marriage equality movement. Even though this is the issue I’m most passionate about, I’ve had a hard time keeping up. I could use the new baby as an excuse (and trust me, I do), but the reality is that it’s been fast and confusing. So, to kick off this Pride Week, I asked APW Sponsors Arthi and Izzy of Two Moon Photography to write up a summary of what’s been happening. We all know about the Supreme Court cases, but let’s review the rest of this amazing year. While there is so much work left to do, sometimes it’s important to stop and be grateful for all the work that’s been done. Let’s do that, this Pride.
From states’ triumphs to challenges in the Supreme Court, things have been moving fast with marriage equality over the past few months. It’s hard to keep up with the nuances of various bills, and debates can take you for a spin. But the heart of the matter is that marriage equality is about elevating our collective consciousness to realize that, no matter who you love, your union deserves the right to be recognized, respected, and celebrated.
Massachusetts, in 2004, was the first state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage. Since then, eleven other states and Washington, D.C. have passed similar bills to allow same-sex marriage. The November 2012 elections brought in Maryland, Washington (both referendum votes), and Maine (popular vote); and, in May alone, three more states—Minnesota, Delaware, and our home state, Rhode Island—passed bills legalizing same-sex marriage. Momentum is building! Grassroots organizing is changing minds and opening hearts, and we are building stronger, more accepting communities through trust and love.
But what about outside the U.S.? Just in the past two months, Uruguay, France, and New Zealand all passed laws allowing same-sex couples to legally marry, bringing the total number of countries recognizing marriage equality to fourteen.
Now here’s the kicker: jammed in there between the November 2012 and the May 2013 states’ and countries’ victories, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments on same-sex marriage, as the constitutionality of both California’s Proposition 8 and the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were challenged in court.
Whew. See what I mean? Things have been moving fast.
Challenging the United States in court is a big deal, but so is DOMA. This is the act that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, as a result denying same-sex couples federal recognition regardless of their marital status on the state level. Simply stated, because of DOMA, married, same-sex couples cannot receive benefits for their military spouses, cannot access social security benefits when widowed, cannot file taxes jointly or receive exemption from federal estate taxes, and cannot access immigration protections such as obtaining visas for their same-sex spouses—all protections that other couples recognized by the federal government can access.
This is personal to all of us. In fact, friends of Arthi’s, L and J, have been struggling for eight years to return to the United States after their marriage in Boston in 2005. At their wedding, they exchanged the vows with each other and vows with their friends and family community who surrounded them. It was deeply moving to be a part of it. Sadly, after L’s visa expired, the couple had to leave the United States and leave their circle of friends and family in order to stay together. Because they are two women, DOMA prevented them from successfully obtaining a visa for L despite the fact that J is a legal citizen, born and raised in New England. It’s been painful and challenging for them, unable to come back aside from short visits. But their love and drive is strong; they keep working, keep fighting, and look out to what lies ahead.
We can see, and feel, that amid the fast pace, big decisions impacting countless couples and families are on the horizon.
June is Pride month in the United States. It’s a time when the riots at the Stonewall Inn are remembered, when identity is celebrated and when people come together to be fabulous and proud. The Supreme Court will likely make their ruling on DOMA this June as well (Editor’s note: This week!). Regardless of the decision, the pendulum has swung. Three U.S. states and three countries have succeeded in legalizing same-sex marriage since DOMA arguments were introduced in the Supreme Court in March. The conversation over marriage and who is eligible to marry is out in the open with more understanding, respect, and compassion than there has ever been. It’s paving the way to enable people to see that this is an issue related to choice and love and access. It’s an issue about honoring history and what lies ahead. Now is the time.
We know we’re gonna win this one way or another.