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This winter, when Edie Windsor went before the Supreme Court to argue against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- which effectively banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages in the United States -- I got excited.
A big ol’ dyke and a former intern at legal nonprofits like the ACLU and Lambda Legal, I had been following the Windsor v. United States case for years. Like most cases of its size and importance, it languished for what seemed like forever, without a lot of major developments. But at the beginning of 2013, Windsor v. United States was finally nearing its conclusion. A decision would be made in the foreseeable future, determining whether DOMA would stay or go.
Folks, I got really pumped. You see, I had been engaged to my longtime ladylove for quite awhile, and I was already knee-deep in wedding preparations. Wouldn't it be awesome if SCOTUS made a decision about DOMA in time for our wedding? Wouldn't it be freakin' fabulous if they decided it was unconstitutional, and that our relationship would be eligible for federal recognition?
But as our wedding day loomed closer, I gave up on the lofty hope that DOMA would fall in time for us to get married. SCOTUS takes forever to decide on anything anyway, and besides, our wedding was in less than a month. Federal recognition was probably not going to magically fall into my white lace-clad lap.
But then! Wednesday happened! I was at Sephora in Union Square, shopping for the perfect lipstick for the big day, when my bestie sent me a super excited text. My embarrassingly old-fashioned flip phone lit up with the words, "DOMA FOUND UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!!!!!" And suddenly, my totally unrealistic dream came true.
DOMA got struck down, literally a few days before I was off to the Manhattan Marriage Bureau to tie the knot.
But despite the perfect timing, this happily-ever-after conclusion to my wedding planning saga doesn’t feel as wonderful as I thought it would.
This past winter, fantasizing about the possibility of a perfectly timed DOMA decision, I imagined I’d watch the proceedings on the news with baited breath. I pictured myself jumping up and down in my living room, or in my cube at work, screaming and squealing with glee. I imagined my eyes tearing up a little. I imagined joy actually bursting from my body.
And that’s how it felt for my bestie. A totally queertastic straight girl and one of the best people I know, she was crying with joy on her way to work. She was giddily hopping and skipping on the Manhattan sidewalks. She was physically manifesting her glee, the way I thought I would.
But as I stood in the middle of the floor in Sephora, disappointing lipstick contenders in hand, I didn’t even feel my facial expression change. I stared at the words on my cell phone screen and felt a mixture of suspicion and disbelief. My happiness was only half-baked. For me, DOMA’s death wasn’t overwhelmingly joyous -- it was bittersweet.
You see, even though I’m totally pumped to be marrying my super sexy soul mate, my relationship with the whole marriage thing is pretty complicated. I think the whole institution is kind of fucked up, and I don’t really agree with the mainstream gay rights movement’s choice to focus almost exclusively on the issue of marriage equality, when there are tons of other really important issues that pretty much get ignored.
Like, for example, as Black Girl Dangerous pointed out in a recent post, on the same day that SCOTUS decided to strike down DOMA, about 2,000 queer youth went homeless. Almost 40,000 Americans were arrested and taken to jail -- and they were overwhelmingly queer and/or of color. Kansas lawmakers made headway towards passing a truly disgusting bill that would require HIV positive folks to be quarantined. Arizona lawmakers passed a bill that makes it significantly more dangerous for trans and gender-non-conforming folks to use public restrooms. And over 1,000 women were raped.
But none of those things really found their way into the news cycle. Despite all of this fuckery, when I came home from my Sephora outing and signed into Facebook, I saw countless status updates self-righteously claiming that “We’re all equal now!” and “This is the end of all discrimination!” Like, are you kidding me? Those claims are about as true as Bill Clinton insisting that he did NOT have sexual relations with that woman.
And why the tunnel vision, really? Federal recognition of same-sex marriage is great, for sure, because it translates to plenty of real, material gains for specific chunks of people. It means that we can access a whole bunch of tax and Social Security benefits, partner-sponsored health insurance, and immigrations sponsorships for our international spouses. Yay!
But why do we have to be MARRIED to get these perks? Why are there financial rewards for coupling up? Why does no one care about all the single folks who are getting shafted? Shouldn’t we be focusing on making life better for everyone, and not just those of us who have set up bridal registries at Bed Bath & Beyond?
Obviously, the answer to that question is YES. Of course we should be using our social justice energies to make life better for everyone. That includes the homeless queer youth who crowd Christopher Street every night. And the trans people of color that are routinely raped, beaten, and funneled into the prison industrial complex. And the low-income gay lovers who don’t have employer sponsored health insurance to share with each other.
These people aren’t feeling any more equal today than they did on Tuesday, when DOMA was still alive and well. These people won’t benefit from same-sex marriage. And we can’t stop fighting and forget about them because gay wedding bells are ringing.
Plus, we also can’t let DOMA’s death overshadow what SCOTUS did only one day before. On Tuesday, it struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which required certain states to clear any proposed changes to their voting laws with the federal government. The whole point of this provision was to try and eradicate Jim Crow, and it has successfully done away with poll taxes, voter ID requirements, and literacy tests that overwhelmingly disenfranchised people of color.
But on Tuesday, SCOTUS decided that institutionalized racism wasn’t a thing anymore -- or at least not a thing that many of them weren’t OK with. Almost immediately following the VRA’s demise, conservative lawmakers started pushing through updated voting laws aimed at disenfranchising people of color. No one was surprised.
So when I heard about the end of DOMA, what I actually heard was that, within 24 hours, SCOTUS had decided that people of color aren’t worth protecting, but gay folks are. It had granted legal goodies to one marginalized group at the expense of another. In both cases, upper-middle class, privileged folks rule the day -- as they are the only people who will either benefit or go unharmed from the death of these two laws. For me, and for so many others, the end of DOMA is more bittersweet than joyous -- and it’s a poignant reminder that there’s still a ton of work that needs to be done.
So, in the wake of DOMA’s death, I’m on my way to my own wedding. On Monday, just 5 days after SCOTUS’ decision, my fiancée and I will head over to the Manhattan Marriage Bureau to legalize our love. But that’s not to say that our marriage will be on the same legal ground as our straight counterparts. Not by a long shot.
As residents of the Sixth Borough (OK, we live in Jersey. Don’t hate. We’ve got the Cake Boss.), our legal marriage and our fancy wedding will be two separate events. Gay marriage isn’t lawful in our home state of New Jersey, so without that extra trip to the Manhattan courthouse, we wouldn’t be legally joined at all.
Likewise, when we travel to any of the other 37 states that don’t recognize gay marriage, we won’t be legally married there either. We can file our federal tax returns as a married couple, and I can go on my new wife’s employer-sponsored health insurance (thank goodness). But with the patchwork nature of marriage laws in the U.S., DOMA’s death has actually made the legality of our union even more complicated.
So, the moral of this story? SCOTUS’ decision on DOMA is one small victory in a vast sea of social injustice. Gay marriage is still not really equal, and the fight over it is far from over. Also, don’t go lipstick shopping at Sephora. It was not a successful trip.
But those morals are all kind of Debbie Downers, am I right? So let’s focus on the fun part of this tale! No matter how bittersweet it is, my totally unrealistic, dyketastic, fairytale-daydreaming-at-the-office fantasy came true. DOMA got struck down just in time for my very own gay wedding. Let the newlywed, lesbian sexcapades begin!