Almost 44 years to the day after the Stonewall Uprising which brought the movement for LGBT equality into the public consciousness, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered two rulings that early LGBT activists could not have dreamed of. On June 26th, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” the section that defined marriage, for the purpose of federal benefits and recognitions, as between one man and one woman. The effect of this ruling is profound. The Federal Government will now be required to recognize all legal marriages as equal. There is no difference between a legal opposite sex marriage and a legal same sex marriage.
Additionally, the Court decision in the California Proposition 8 case, upholds the lower court injuction against it. In other words, once the Ninth Circut court lifts its stay, same sex couples in the nation’s most populous state can join the ranks of married couples recognized in both their state and, now, by the federal government.
Has marriage been redefined? Legally, in some places, yes. At its essence though it remains the same. It is becomming a bigger and more inclusive institution. It is becomming an even more potent symbol of the values of committment and family. It is becomming less “exclusive” and more socially empowering. The essential equality of marriage as a human relationship and community value has the capacity to reduce stigmatization. It has the capacity to create more common ground between groups whose experiences have long been characterized by their differences.
The Court’s rulings today began to undo the damage of DOMA. Not entirely, though. The right of states to determine what counts as a legal marriage and their right to recognize or, more importantly, not recognize marriages from other states is still there. Time will sort out the impacts, meaning, and availability of “federal benefits” for legally married couples who might live in non-equality states. The Court’s choice to base their judgement on the lack of “legal standing” for Prop 8 proponents avoided a SCOTUS opinion on a constitutional right for same sex couples to marry. Rest assured, fierce battles lie ahead.
Today’s rulings are a huge step forward for the American enterprise. Not just for LGBT people and advocates, but for all of our communities. Recognizing human equality and dignity is always progress.
Much work still needs to be done. We don’t live in a post racial society just because we elected an African American President. Rulings this same week about Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act demonstrate that. Similarly, we don’t live in a post heterosexist society as a result of today’s rulings. In many places, while a person’s marriage may now be recognized in California, he could still lose his job (in Michigan, for example) for putting his husband’s picture on his desk. Discrimination in schools, workplaces, community services, law enforcement, immigration, and health care still exist. Today is as powerful a launching pad for progress as was June 28, 1969 at a neighbood bar in New York.