What Does the New Defense Of Marriage Mean For Me and My Fiancée?

A little over two years ago, I became gay. Unlike others who identify with being born gay, my "gayness" was purely circumstantial. I met the love of my life. She caught me completely off-guard and yet, the moment I left her presence, in that unassuming sports bar uncannily close to Stonewall, I knew my life had changed forever. This past April, I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Wednesday morning, as the Supreme Court announced its decision on DOMA and Prop 8, I was overcome with gratification. My fianceé and I, together, will enjoy the same rights as our friends and loved ones. 

For some people, however, this change is unwelcome. It represents a threat to what they know and believe, and the truth of the matter is, I understand the logic of their fight. I can empathize with their need to protect something that seems to challenge their values. Unlike them, however, I believe that allowing one consenting adult to commit to another consenting adult does not degenerate the institution of marriage. Rather, it increases our collective consciousness on love, integrity, and respect. This is why I fought for gay rights as an ally long before I realized the impact it would have on me personally.

Empathy is not something we have experienced much of in the current political climate. As sides become further and further entrenched, the ability to identify with the other's plight has become more obscured. However, Wednesday marked a respite from all this and the decision handed down by the justices, albeit a close call, was one of compassion and validation. This outcome was reached by the growing awareness of our shared humanity. We are a generation that has unlocked the human genome and, in doing so, has discovered the scientific triviality of things like race and skin tone. All the while, we've come to revere cultural nuance and embrace different approaches. I lament that the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 will not be celebrated by everyone; but in the same vein that I ask them to respect my choices, as I will respect theirs. 

So what does the new defense of marriage mean for me and my fiancée? It means that we can get married in our home state, surrounded by the friends and family that love us both individually and together. It means that if either of us were in the hospital, the other would be allowed bedside.

It means we are allowed the same rights that straight couples have with regard to federal taxes and health care. But more than these tangible, necessary changes, it means we are no longer regarded as second class citizens. It means that the legitimacy of our commitment is recognized as equal to that of our peers. It means that our wishes to create a benevolent family that contributes to the betterment of our society are not in vain. 

I recently had the honor of watching Edith Windsor receive the Presidential Medal at New York University. During the ceremony, NYU President John Sexton artfully conveyed Edith's courageous life, emphasizing her 42-year-long committed relationship, as well as her continued advocacy for equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. Shortly following this, I got to personally sit down with another lesbian couple that shared many of the same struggles as Edith and Thea. Together for nearly 30 years, they were married in California during the window of time in which it was legal, only to receive a letter from the governor some short time later informing them that their commitment was no longer valid. Wednesday's decision justifies the torch that these women and countless more have had to carry; without their conviction and desire to be treated as equals, I hardly believe we would be celebrating today.

However, Wednesday also marked a turning point for my generation and generations to come. By declaring the kind of legislated shame bestowed upon these loving couples, along with so many others, as unconstitutional, SCOTUS has chosen compassion in the face of bigotry. And though equality still remains a far cry for people from all walks of life, Wednesday's events certainly represent a momentous occasion in the broader fight for human rights. 

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Erin Hogeboom

Erin holds a Masters from New York University's Center for Global Affairs and is a returned Peace Corps volunteer. Her talents are in community organizing, food systems management and human rights advocacy.

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