Now. Then. Now.

By Rob Banaszak on June 28, 2013 in m2mPower, Policy/Advocacy

AIDSWatch-KhalidNaji-Allah -75-3By Rob Banaszak, Director of Communications, AIDS United

“This is really happening…”

That’s what I was thinking as I stood on the sunsoaked steps of the Supreme Court on June 26, as SCOTUS’ ruling striking down DOMA came down. The air in front of the Court was thick with hope, and I was in awe of the hundreds of people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations (one of my companions was a straight friend), who were utterly committed to standing in mind-numbing, body-drenching heat to be a part of history. I marveled at everyone who was furiously scouring the SCOTUS Blog on their smartphones (dripping with sweat as they did so), or who were eavesdropping on others reading out loud from the blog for news of the decision. I cheered with the crowd when the ruling came out. I must confess, however, that I was a little numb.

Of course I am overjoyed that the Supremes got it right this time! I am thrilled that LGBTQ people are one step closer to being treated as equal citizens under the law. I am excited that the term “gay marriage” is one step closer to being obsolete, as our society begins to recognize “marriage” as the union of two people — regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation — who love each other and want to get married.

But I didn’t cry tears of joy as many of my friends – both gay and straight – did. I felt more relief than anything.

“This is really happening…”

AU at SCOTUS-webYou see that’s also what I was thinking in 1996 when DOMA was created. I worked for the national office of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), during a time when lawsuit in Hawaii, Baehr v. Miike, in which three same-sex couples argued that Hawaii’s prohibition of same-sex marriage violated the state constitution, had caused cultural firestorm and was the impetus for dozens of statutes and constitutional amendments banning same-sex unions at the state level. Baehr v. Miike, and the avalanche of state anti-marriage legislation that followed also led to the enactment of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). At the Congressional hearings held before DOMA was passed, I sat in on the testimony of one of our PFLAG members — a mom from Oklahoma, who simply told her truth. She talked about how precious her lesbian daughter was. She spoke of how she wanted her daughter to be able to marry the person she loved. She proclaimed that she wanted her daughter to have the same rights that her straight children had.

During that hearing, she was vilified by Members of Congress who were pro-DOMA and clearly anti-gay. She was treated as if there were something wrong with her because she supported her daughter. She was addressed by these elected officials with shocking disrespect. I was appalled and sickened. Soon after, DOMA was enacted.

“This is really happening…”

I had moved to DC about two years before experiencing my DOMA disillusionment. Just prior to my move, my husband, who had AIDS, passed away. While we had gotten “married” in the mass wedding demonstration at 1993’s March on Washington, we never would have imagined that we could have gotten legally married in our lifetimes. When his health began a rapid decline, however, I was always allowed to be with him during treatments, in his hospital room, and at his side as he died – as any married spouse would be. When the fight against DOMA began and the gay community compiled stories of couples in long-term relationships that had experienced awful discrimination within that relationship, I knew I had been blessed.

I never really believed that DOMA would be overturned, despite the groundswell of support for same sex marriage that we have been seeing over the last several years. And yet, on June 26, 2013, I was standing in the blazing sun with my community — many of whom were only toddlers when DOMA was enacted – as this cynical and hate-driven legislation came to its end.

Since that day my relief has turned to a quiet elation, along with a cautious optimism about where we are headed and how fast we are getting there. Sooner than I thought it would happen, marriage will be marriage and love will be love. Well, actually, love IS love.

This is really happening.

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