Today and tomorrow will be important day in U.S. History. This morning the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California after it had been legalized, leaving many gay and lesbian couples in limbo. Tomorrow, they will hear arguments for and against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was enacted during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Without getting into all the legalese – DOMA allows each state to define marriage, as well as federally defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Kendra and I are carefully following these cases, because like most legally wedded same-sex couples in the United States, we often find ourselves in legal limbo. While our marriage is recognized in Massachusetts, as well as the other states that allow and/or recognize gay marriage – Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as Washington D. C., we do not have access to federal benefits. We cannot file as married on our federal tax returns. We cannot collect the other’s social security, and one of us would pay estate taxes on our jointly owned home if the other were to pass away. We are taxed on my portion of our health insurance plan, since Kendra holds the insurance.
More importantly, if I had not formally adopted Addison, and we were traveling in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, I would have no rights to her if something happened to Kendra. She would be removed from my care and placed into foster care until her next of kin could be established, regardless of the fact that I am listed as her second parent on her birth certificate!
This list goes on and on… and yet, we are “lucky” because we live in a state that does recognize our marriage, therefore we have access to state-granted benefits. If we lived in one of the 30 states that ban same-sex marriage, we would be facing so much more discrimination. I would have no legal rights to Addison. If something were to happen to one of us, the other would have no hospital visitation rights, or be able to make healthcare decisions. We could be fired from our jobs for being gay!
Take a look at the map – there are many places where our family is not legally protected within the “Land of the Free.”
Yet, same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for almost TEN years! In that time, our state hasn’t fallen apart, slipped into moral chaos, nor has the entire state turned gay. What has happened is that families like mine are finding love, acceptance, equality, and access to legal protection.
Last night, as we celebrated Passover with good friends, we spoke about social justice issues. Pesach is a time for reflecting on the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery and oppression in Egypt, as well as modern-day injustice and inequality. I can’t help thinking it is no coincidence that the Supreme Court is hearing these important court cases on the first two days of Passover.
Tonight we read, “in every generation each individual is obligated to see him/herself as though s/he went forth from Egypt.” While we are gathered around our seder table we experience the bitterness of slavery, the maror (bitter herb) and the sadness of injustice even as we delight in the coming spring, the karpas(fresh greens). While we recall our experiences of old we are aware of the injustices of our own time. Our hearts and thoughts turn to those who do not yet experience freedom because of discrimination. Tonight we think of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and colleagues whose freedom is undermined. We pray that when we gather around the seder table next Passover, the freedom to marry will return to California and the Defense of Marriage Act will no longer be law in our land.
May the One who delivered our people from Egypt enable the justices of the Supreme Court to hear the turning tide and embrace the freedom to marry and the end of DOMA so that all of those who are oppressed may be free!
– Written by Rabbi Eleanor Steinman
So today we are praying – praying that justice wins out, and the Supreme Court makes a decision that will strike down DOMA and extend federal benefits to ALL American citizens; praying that people who are against same-sex marriage put down their picket signs, and take a moment to imagine walking in our shoes – to imagine what it would feel like to not be able to make a public and legal commitment to the person you love, to imagine what it would feel like to be afraid of your child being ripped from your life because someone else didn’t approve of your relationship, to imagine what it would feel like to be denied from the hospital room of your loved one because you are not recognized as “family.”
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
– spoken by Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
At the end of the day, we are all human beings who love, laugh, and cry; who want to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality. I find hope in the words of Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, and have faith that the justices of the Supreme Court will make decisions that will continue to transform America into a land of liberty and justice for ALL.
Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
– Theodore Parker (1810-1860), Unitarian Minister