Friday, December 7, 2012

When Marriage Equality Becomes Personal: Off the Bench and into the Game

As I sit here at my computer, sipping my morning coffee, one week away from my wedding day, I am listening to CNN's Jeffery Toobin speculate on whether or not the US Supreme Court will decide today to take up two legal challenges to bans on marriage equality: The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the challenge to California's Prop 8. Both have been found by lower courts to violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Toobin explains the difference between the two laws. DOMA, the 1996 legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton, bans federal recognition of legal same sex marriage and leaves it up to individual states to decide whether or not to recognize those marriages performed in other states.

Even if the Supremes overturn DOMA, it won't make marriage equality legal, but it will force the federal government to treat gay and lesbian couples equally to opposite-married couples. If they choose not to take the case, then the law can only be overturned legislatively by congress.

With the Prop 8 challenge, if the high court declines to hear the case, marriage equality immediately becomes legal again in California. Should they decide to hear the case, we hold our collective breath and wait for several more months. A victory overturns constitutional bans in all 50 states and we all win. A defeat maintains the status quo and we continue to slog it out, state by state, until all of us are treated equally under the law.

I've written about these and other marriage equality fights for several years. I've marched on Washington several times, organized rallies and protests for equality, attended Pride in different cities for over three decades and discussed the issues with family and friends all in an ongoing effort to educate and open hearts and minds. Thousands of LGBT activists, bloggers and ordinary people have done the same, each one contributing what they can to fight for equal rights.

As with any minority group struggling for equal treatment, the fight becomes the focus, while the goal seems increasingly elusive the longer the fight goes on. But now, as I work out the final details of our wedding next Friday, I am struck by how surreal it all feels to be off the sidelines and in the game.

Paul and I are from the generation that came out at a time when marriage wasn't even a consideration for gays and lesbians. Coming out, for us, meant, trying not to be seen going to gay bars, avoiding police harassment, accepting the reality of who we are, living honestly and openly as gay men and the cold, hard fact that certain milestones of life, like marriage and starting a family, were no longer options. We each, separately, got on with life, had relationships, created lives of our own, attended weddings of friends and family, all the while, watching from the sidelines.

Then we met and the connection was immediate. I knew at that moment that his was the face I wanted to wake up to every morning. When we finally moved in together after nearly a year, he got down on one knee and proposed, holding out a ring that didn't cost much and had one of its rainbow-colored stones missing. I accepted, happily, knowing all they while that in Virginia - in 2001 - the prospect of an actual wedding was a long way off.

Fast forward thirteen years and several several marriage equality victories later and it's all about to become a reality.

I find myself planning a small ceremony in Washington, DC on the rooftop deck at my nephew's condo. So many family members and friends are pitching in to make this happen. It's a seven hour drive to DC, so getting this put together has been a challenge. A big thanks goes out to my friends and family in and around DC who have been working to make our wedding day a reality.

It is now well into the afternoon as I have attempted to write this article in fits and starts, having written and deleted several paragraphs that one moment seemed perfect, then the next made no sense at all.

I have so many mixed emotions, it's difficult to express them. One minute I'm thrilled, the next terrified. I reflect on my own family relationships and the relationship I have forged with Paul's family and try to comprehend that when we are married, Paul and I will be merging the two. Up until fairly recently, our family consisted of the two of us, our three cats and the 11 ducks we raised back in Virginia at our little slice of heaven we called Morning Wood Acres.

Our lives are different now here in North Carolina than when we first started out together. After all the ups and downs that are the hallmark of all long-term relationships, we're in a great place in our life together. In many ways, after 13 years nothing will change, but at the same time, everything will change.

The knowledge that in one week we will be legally married, reaping the benefits of our labor and that of so many others is, at times, overwhelming. Next week I will marry my best friend and soul mate and I am both thrilled and terrified, just like every other groom in the history of marriage. If that's not equality, than what is?

Editor's note:
As I finish this piece, Talking Points Memo has posted that the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of Windsor vs. The United States, which challenges the constitutionality of DOMA.

Via TPM:

Oral arguments will be next spring and a decision is expected by the end of June.
The Court agreed to hear the Windsor v. United States case, which was brought by a lesbian widow. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated DOMA in a 2-1 decision finding that the federal government did not have a legitimate interest in treating same sex couples differently.

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