What a beautiful day!
This morning, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down a key element of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissed the Proposition 8 lawsuit. In one defining moment, same-sex marriage will be upheld with full rights and privileges, but only in the 12 states, District of Columbia, and five Native American tribes who have marriage equality. (Because the Prop 8 case was dismissed, it is possible that same-sex marriages in California will resume.)
The caveat: The SCOTUS decision only strikes one of two main sections of DOMA. The section defining marriage as between one man and one woman was ruled unconstitutional because it treats marriages of same-sex couples as a separate class than those of heterosexual couples — including access to the more than 1,100 provisions that federal law grants married couples. The second section of DOMA — in which states are not required to acknowledge same-sex marriages — remains intact.
This is big news!
I can’t imagine the cheers and tears happening in households all across the country today. Just yesterday I shared coffee with a friend from church who married her partner in California during the brief window when licenses were issued before the Prop 8 ban. She wondered allowed how meaningful it will be for her daughters to see the government legitimize her marriage. Although her marriage will be recognized in California, she lives in Nevada where it is banned. So what is the message there? Five years ago I attended my best friend’s wedding, which even today will not have the same legal standing as my own marriage because Oregon does not recognize his union. How long will his children have to wait for their parents to be not just validated by the law, but protected by it?
Clearly, the fight is not over.
With only a dozen states — Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — granting marriage rights there is still a lot of work to do. Here in Nevada, our recent vote by the Legislature to overturn the same-sex marriage ban, codified in the state constitution, puts us one step closer. But we’ll have to wait until the next session of the Legislature, in 2015, for a required second vote, and then a vote by the people, in 2016. There are 30 states with bans on same-sex marriage. So, there is more work to be done.
I am heartened by a recent conversation I had with Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, and author of the new book God Believes in Love, Straight Talk about Gay Marriage. (Stay tuned for details about that interview!) As we discussed the pending SCOTUS decision, I asked the retired bishop about his thoughts on the changing attitudes about same-sex marriage. A poll released hours before the SCOTUS decision today showed 55 percent of Americans supporting marriage equality (up 11 points since President Obama came into office).
Robinson’s answer was simple: More people know someone who is gay.
“That’s what’s changed. So many of us have come out. Now that so many people know someone who is gay, they know the truth,” he said.
It may be easy for non-LGBT individuals to forget how difficult the coming out process still is for LGBT people. As much as laws and public opinion have shifted, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people still must wrestle with fears of rejection, ostracism, or even violence from family, friends, co-workers, teachers, and any other people in their lives. In several states it is still legal for someone to be evicted or fired for being non-heterosexual or having a non-conforming gender identity. Coming out is still a brave act. And it is still a political act.
Earlier this year, Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman announced his change of heart on same-sex marriage rights after revealing his son is gay. Here in Nevada, one can’t help wonder how State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson’s admission — “I’m black. I’m gay.” — may have shifted the vote to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Likewise, State Sen. Justin Jones, a Mormon, said he could not bring himself to vote against same-sex marriage rights after seeing his gay brother-in-law in church every Sunday.
Unfortunately, knowing a gay person doesn’t always equate to seeing the light. Conservative Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ openly gay cousin was seated in the courtroom during arguments this spring. That personal connection was not enough to swing Roberts decision, as he sided with the other three conservative, dissenting, justices.
As the news broke of the SCOTUS decision, I couldn’t help but think about my three-year-old child. Is it possible that by the time she reaches an age of understanding about marriage, we will have equality for all? If you had asked me that when she was born, I would have said no. But now … Now there feels like space enough for hope.
More than a dozen countries recognize same-sex marriage rights. It would be wonderful to finally see America — whether we have to fight state-by-state or whether we can get a federal bill passed — join them.
In the meantime, locals can join me and what I can only imagine will be a huge crowd for a rally at The Center at 5pm today: