What the DOMA Decision Means to Me

DOMA and lesbian couples

It feels different. It does. After all the nerves and anticipation and frank dread, when the Supreme Court finally issued their rulings last week I had to check my Twitter feed to make sure I had heard it right. The Defense of Marriage act was dead? The bulk of my confusion resulted from the near impossibility of hearing NPR over the riotous din of Who Wants Some Pizza? (Yogi’s game of the moment), but I can’t blame the boys for all of it. The rest of it was me. Fear and shame lodge themselves so deeply that they can make the real world near impossible to hear clearly. In that moment I realized that in spite of my hoping and wishing and anxious waiting, I didn’t believe it could really happen. I just couldn’t imagine it.

I’m pretty sure this kind of reaction is what is meant by the term internalized homophobia. While I am a reasonably well adjusted and contributing member of society who is fiercely proud of my family, I am also a part of all that I have known. I am part of a community and an extended family who struggle to see me as they see themselves. Who (mostly) try to make room, but who often fall short. While I’m grateful for the effort, the fact of it makes me weary. Every translation I make reminds me of my difference, my outsiderness, and there is a lot of translating.

And then there it was. A ruling that established that marriage is marriage. No translation necessary. Settled into the couch watching Rachel Maddow’s exuberant coverage later that evening with my wife, the world felt new. Parker and I live in a state that is sure to be drug into the marriage equality fold kicking and screaming, but we live in a country that might just be beginning to get it. To imagine that our marriages and our families are not second tier approximations of the real thing. To see us in new and maybe even clearer ways.

As exciting as all of that is, it’s not the best part. Far from it really. The best part is what all of this means for us. For the ways we queer folk see ourselves. Justice Kennedy hones right in on the private significance  of anti-gay legislation in his opinion for the Court:

DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.

The language he uses is powerful and rightly so. A people who are demeaned and humiliated by their own government are necessarily less powerful. More constrained and limited. History tells us this, but we know it too in our own hearts. Minorities of every stripe have made their way under similar burdens, but burdens are heavy. Burdens weigh you down and constrict your movement and alter your very possibility.

So while I’m thrilled for the country and optimistic about the future for marriage equality, I’m most deeply grateful for the private ripples I believe this will have for all of us. For the ways we see our marriages and the ways we see ourselves. Because what so much of this is about, as Justice Kennedy articulated, is dignity. The families that we have long created outside the boundaries of governmental recognition were not made more real or true last Wednesday, but they were granted a measure of dignity.

In the almost twenty years I have been an out lesbian I have insisted that I didn’t need anyone (my family, the government, whomever) to validate my choices. Park and I were most assuredly married in spite of our state’s lack of acknowledgement and those boys were mine long before still another state granted their permission for me to adopt them. These things are true, but so too is the growing awareness that it’s possible to teach yourself to stop wanting what you fear you can never have. Now with legal marriage so close at hand I can tell you that I want that. I want less translation and more dignity. I want it for my family and I want it for yours. It’s time.

Alison Armstrong* is a Southern, Stay-at-home-Mom getting used to life outside of academia and raising a child, Yogi*, with her wife, Parker*. You can follow her family’s adventures at her blog, Love Invents Us or read her previous posts for It’s Conceivable here.

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