Victory! Victory. Victory?
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 are a big win, but we need to be careful not to trick ourselves into thinking that the war being waged against LGBT families is over. June 26th will be remembered as a turning point as long as we remember that no one has equality until we all have equality.
If you had asked me a month ago, I probably would have told you that I expected to be dancing in the streets when the Supreme Court handed down decisions in the marriage cases. I was confident that DOMA would be struck down and that marriages would begin again in California. And I’m extremely happy about those rulings, but I find it more difficult to generate that level of dancing in the street excitement.
I stayed up into the early hours of the morning on Election Day in 2008. I was absolutely convinced that Proposition 8 would be defeated in California. It would be a turning point! It would be the first time that voters defeated a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and I knew — absolutely knew — that California could do it. Would do it. I drank lots of tea, watched returns on tv, cried when Obama won, and waited.
Eventually, of course, it became clear that I was wrong. Prop 8 passed. I was stunned. I didn’t know how to react. Logically, I didn’t think I should feel so … defeated. I mean, I didn’t even live in California anymore. I lived in Massachusetts. I was already married. I can’t have been alone in that feeling, because I’m pretty sure that many of our marriage victories in the last few years are a direct result of the shock LGBT felt after losing on Prop 8.
Where are we left, though, after this week?
Well, some Americans are less equal than they were when the week began. By gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has diminished our democracy. Within hours of the decision, Texas began to implement an extremely restrictive voter id requirement. It’s going to mean that fewer citizens, fewer legitimate voters, will be able to vote. The most fundamental right we have in a democracy, and it is being stripped away.
In the marriage cases, the answer is less clear. Some of us, those who live in states where we were already somewhat more equal, have become … even closer to equal. My family now enjoys the same legal protections as every other family, as long as we remain in a marriage equality state.
Immediately, or pretty close to immediately, we should begin to receive some pretty sizeable tax refunds from the federal government. We filed protective claims on our taxes back to 2008, the year we got married. That means that we should be able to receive refunds for the extra taxes we’ve paid in the last four years. Without getting too specific about our finances, that’s about $10,000 in total, mostly because I’m a stay-at-home dad and don’t have income, while my husband does.
For the future, it’s hard to say what the economic benefit is for us. It depends on when I return to the workforce and what kind of money I’m able to make when I do. It’s unlikely that it would have continued to cost us $2500 annually, because the number was going down each year. What this means in terms of social security is unclear, too, and will also depend on what the next thirty years holds for me in terms of a career. What is clear, though, is that the same rules will apply to us that apply to our neighbors. No more special rules just for us.
It looks like yesterday’s ruling may be most important for binational couples, since they were the ones at risk of not even being able to live with their spouses. For couples in equality states, and those with ready access to travel to an equality state to get a marriage license, it seems like this will be a real remedy. We need to make sure that the LGBT community creates a system to assist economically disadvantaged couples in non-equality states to access this remedy. The gap between deportation and a life together might be as small as two airline tickets and a marriage license fee.
We cannot allow ourselves to forget, for even a moment, issues like employment discrimination, economic justice, housing discrimination, violence, access to the full range of physical and mental health services. LGBT people are impacted disproportionately by disparities in those areas, and yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions do not provide a direct remedy for any of those painful, damaging injustices.
Some of you are rolling your eyes at me right now. It’s because I said “direct” remedy, implying that there is an indirect remedy of some kind to be found in yesterday’s ruling. I think there is, and it gives me enormous hope. I think (and Antonin Scalia agrees with me, so … yay?) that yesterday’s decision on equal protection grounds opens doors for an awful lot of equal protection claims to be made not only in marriage, but also in employment, in housing, and in health care.
Plenty of people do not believe in marriage. I think an admirable case for marriage as oppression can be made. (To summarize, but please go read it anyway: the fight for marriage equality draws money and attention away from other LGBT issues, and that marriage is primarily an economic tool that perpetuates capitalism, thereby disadvantaging those we claim it is helping.) It’s not that I disagree with those arguments. I don’t. I just think it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll see enormous structural changes made to any of those institutions in our lifetimes, and I think that seeking more justice within those systems is more likely to meet success.
But there’s another reason, too. I live in Massachusetts. I grew up in Massachusetts, just down the road from where I live now. But I left for a while. I went to college in upstate New York. I moved to California with my boyfriend. He graduated from boyfriend to partner and we moved across the country again, to New Jersey. I came back to Massachusetts and he became my husband.
I am not sure if I can even begin to explain the difference between the Massachusetts where I went to high school, ten years before marriage equality, and the Massachusetts where I live now with my husband and sons, ten years after marriage equality became a reality.
On the surface, it looks pretty much the same. My parents live on the same street, in the same house. Every morning, I drop my children off at school, and I drive down the same street that I drove down on the evening I came out to two of my closest friends.
But it’s not the same. Marriage equality is more subversive than it sounds. In small ways, my commingled sock drawer chips away at assumptions.
Ten years ago, reasonable people could oppose marriage equality in Massachusetts and remain reasonable people. In much of the United States, reasonable people can oppose marriage equality and remain reasonable people. But you can’t reasonably oppose civil equality in Massachusetts anymore. Declaring your opposition places you on the fringe. It makes you the bigot down the street. And most people don’t want to feel like bigots. They’re either forced to embrace their bigotry, and watch while people hurry their children away from them, or to change their minds. Or at least close their mouths.
I think you’ll like what the DOMA decision does for life in the United States.