“But why do you need to be married? If you love each other, what difference does it make?”
For my wife and me, as a same-sex couple married and living in the state of New York, federal recognition of our marriage makes all of the difference in the world.
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in United States vs Windsor, sued the United States regarding Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." Despite not fitting this federal definition of what constitutes a spouse, when Windsor speaks of her late wife Thea, in the media there are almost always tears in her eyes. But for 83-year-old lesbian Edith these are not tears of pain, fear, or remorse; they are the tears of a much more powerful emotion — they are tears of love.
When my wife and I were married on Valentine's Day of this year, many people thought it was sweet — and of course, some people thought it was corny. The token “Aren't you just playing into society's definition of love?” question and pointed reminders that “Valentine's Day only celebrates heteronormative love” from our friends and family caused us to roll our eyes but nothing upset, disparaged, and pained us like the assertion that our fight towards marriage equality is not a valid LGBT issue.
Marriage “symbolizes love and commitment like nothing else in the world,” Edith said in reference to her loving marriage with Thea. And when I look at my hand in my wife's hand, and when I see the shine of our matching rings, I think of all of the beautiful love and hope in our hearts and I know that Edith is right.
Edith Windsor did not bring suit against the federal government in the highest court in the nation solely because of a $363,000 estate tax — which she would not have had to pay had she were in a heterosexual marriage. By explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman DOMA tells married same-sex couples that their marriages aren't real. It demeans them. It puts them on a second class level of respect and rights. And DOMA sends those same messages to members of the LBGT community over and over again. Edith took her case to the Supreme Court to show the federal government how very real her marriage was. Edith challenges those messages of inferiority which teach the citizens of the United States that it is not only OK, but legal, to discriminate against LGBT people and to view them, and their love, as unequal or lesser than.
Marriage equality is not the end of the battle towards LGBT rights and equality in the United States of America. It will not prevent the alarmingly high number of homeless LGBT youth living in our country. It will not automatically change the minds of the deeply homophobic overnight. It will not change the voices of those public and religious features who have shared anti-gay insights. The federal recognition that marriage is not a term for only heterosexual couples will not dissolve all obstacles faced by the LGBT community in it and of itself.
But marriage equality is important in its own right because it is its own right. It is the right my wife and I, along with all other same-sex couples, are entitled to and want the option of as tax paying and law abiding citizens. Edith took her case to the Supreme Court not only to change laws and policies regarding the government's recognition of marriages in legal and financial terms, but to display the very real and genuine love between same-sex couples to people across the world. Love is an emotion and an experience which transcends nations religions and language barriers — it is something recognized by the slightest touch on the wrist or a passing look so brief you almost miss it. Sharing the love same-sex couples feel humanizes the LGBT community as it reminds even the most deeply homophobic offenders of equality that we are more alike than different.
Edith's steps towards marriage equality are happening not only on the staircase of the Supreme Court, but in public for the world to see; it is the tears in her eyes and the emotion in her voice when shares her love for her wife which takes perhaps the most touching and unifying step towards LGBT equality yet; because like Edith said, “marriage is this magic thing” and my wife and I know that, too. And DOMA's repeal reassures us that we are one step closer to the country we honor and respect seeing the magic in all marriages — straight or same sex, too.