The Winding Path to Marriage Equality

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 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.


by Arthi and Izzy of Two Moon Photography and Arthi Sundaresh Photography

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.

Photo courtesy of Arthi and Izzy of Two Moon Photography and  Arthi Sundaresh Photography

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  • Karen

    Exactly to the last line! In the long run, marriage equality will be the law of the land. I doubt it will happen with these Supreme Court cases but one day we will get there. One day we will all be equal under the law.

  • Class of 1980

    “We know we’re gonna win this one way or another.”

    YES, because collective stupidity can’t last forever. ;)

    • Abby Mae

      So sorry! I accidentally hit report! I’m on my phone and the screen went skitzo there!

  • “We know we’re gonna win this one way or another.”
    We will not quit. Ever.

  • I had a dream last night where DOMA was overturned after I heckled the proceedings, my wife and I got photographed kissing and crying by a news photographer. After the verdict, Judge Alito took questions from the crowd and made fun of me for only advocating for my marriage via facebook posts.

    I was a little pissed off to wake up and find that they had not, in fact, made a ruling, but it does raise an important point in my brain – that we all have to be advocates and active in the political system. Sometimes I think just living openly with my wife is enough. But until things change (let’s get ENDA passed while we’re at it, eh?), it’s not.

    • meg

      Do you remember when I said on Twitter that I had a dream that DOMA had been overturned and I was in the courtroom but I was crying too hard to figure out how to text people and then they gave everyone there tiny trophies to commemorate the occasion?

      On the bigger points, I agree. My personal battle is the hearts and minds one, one person at a time, which has a lot to do with where I came from on this issue, and the deep seated homophobia I grew up around. I’m convinced that’s the only way change happens, and I’ve seen so much progress in the last… oh… since this became my passion at 11. You know ;) OH YES. And I am blatant about the fact that I am using things like the APW advertising program to try to financially di-incentivize people from being anti-gay. Lets be honest. Money talks too. Knowing you’re locked out of community participation (ie, social pressure), also talks. Do what it effing takes, sez I.

  • Amy

    I did something today I never thought I’d do…followed a live blog feed from the Supreme Court. Because maybe, just maybe the Supreme Court will rule in a way that my soon to be wife and I can file joint state and federal taxes this year.

    And a big huge thank you to all who supported us in Minnesota the past few years. I can’t believe we went from a possible constitutional amendment banning equal marriage to LEGAL in 7 months.

    • MaineGirl

      Tomorrow. 10 am. DECISIONS!

    • Claire

      Yeah, we pretty much rocked the marriage equality thing this year in MN, didn’t we? Hopefully that will be followed by more good news tomorrow. Come on 10am.

  • Pokarekare Ana

    Something beautiful from New Zealand: Kia kaha!

    • Jen

      I think i’ve watched that 100 times already but it never fails to bring a tear to my eye. So proud to be a kiwi. Thanks Arthi and Izzy for recognising our country’s contribution to this fight

    • Claire

      Makes me so proud! Loved the bipartisanship coming through and the politicians’ acknowledgement of all the activists in the gallery. We’re a pretty awesome little country :-)

      • Rachel

        New Zealand APWers represent!

  • Megan

    A little off topic but… wondering if/how heterosexual couples are finding ways to include a declaration of their support for the cause in their ceremonies? We’d like to do this in a sensitive but straightforward way, and are struggling for the right wording and placement.

    • We used a selection from “Goodridge Vs. Department of Health” by Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, which was the majority opinion when MA legalized same-sex marriage. It’s a popular choice, and one we find compelling (I’m also from MA, so there’s an additional connection for me). We had our officiant read this excerpt at the beginning of our (secular) ceremony to serve as our definition of marriage:

      Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.”

      Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

      • Catherine McK

        We used this too!And received positive feedback from people from all walks of life.

        • We used this, too! And just before our kiss, our officiant said “Ultimately, no state can create a marriage. That happens when committed individuals come together willingly to promise their lives to one another.”

          • Bonnie

            We thought about using this (especially as we are getting married in MA…a decision we made in part because of marriage equality) but seeing as EVERY wedding we’ve been to lately has used that quote we decided it was getting a little over done. Instead we’re going to make a donation to a marriage equality organization and mention it in a letter to our guests in our program. We’re fortunate that for the most part our friends and family are already on board and certainly they all already know the issue is important to us.

    • Emily

      We used this:

      As they embark on this adventure together, Emily and — feel very fortunate to make this journey with one another. Throughout history and still today, not everyone is free to commit themselves to the one they love. For this reason, we are thankful for what brought us here and hope that one day everyone will be able to enjoy a celebration like ours.

      We got married in NC right after they passed the amendment. This really seemed to resonate with people.

  • Pingback: A Practical Wedding features essay on marriage equality | Arthi Sundaresh()

  • awesome article. thanks so much for being on top of this. amazing comments section too – I’m glad to be a part of this group of readers!!

  • MaineGirl


    I’m freaking out here.

  • It has been pointed out to me that, if they rule tomorrow, it will be on the 10th anniversary of Lawrence v Texas. That has to be significant, ya?

    • meg

      I don’t know that it is. They announce the same week every year at the end of the term, so it’s always going to be on anniversaries of other things.