Love in the Time of DOMA

DOMA has been slain by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).  DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, has had a misleading name for the past seventeen years. After all, it only defends one kind of marriage, and attacks the rest. Former President Bill Clinton signed it into law on September 21, 1996; President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending it in February of 2011, and it was finally been struck down as unconstitutional on June 26, 2013.

If you’ve been following the relatively short life of DOMA, you’ve no doubt heard a ton of legal jargon and many, many references to the Fourteenth Amendment, which contains the equal protection clause that eventually brought former HR 3396 to its knees.That doesn’t really interest me.  I find DOMA’s inherent unfairness obvious. Letting gay people marry one another seems so simple, yet it’s caused so much furor.  It’s gotten so much attention. I hope when my grandchildren go to school that they’re embarrassed of how much energy had to go into overturning DOMA. I know I am.

First things first I am gay.  The new ruling isn’t just about getting married. Yes, it is paving the way to legalizing gay marraige. Yes, the federal government is finally recognizing those couples already married. But it’s not just about laws and recognition. 

It also makes it okay to fall in love.

I know, I know. I don’t like to get maudlin, so I’ll control myself.

Growing up gay is rough. There are the obvious reasons (if you’re not out): locker room anxiety, potential rejection from family members, lying to everyone all the time. There are less obvious reasons, too. When I had a crush on someone, I absolutely could not act on it. It’s not the same kind of anxiety straight guys have when they crush. I remember reading an article as a kid about a group of marines ganging up on a homosexual man and beating the shit out of him. For whatever reason, that article ingrained itself in my head. If I made moves on a guy and he freaked out, I ran into the very real possibility of getting beaten up.  At least, I did in my head.

When I was eight, I convinced myself that I wasn’t gay. Yeah, I had a crush on Christian, but if I said I had a crush on Joanna instead, I could throw people off. Right? I thought so. Then when I was twelve, I had a girlfriend. Nice girl, very pretty.  We were twelve, so we didn’t really do dates.  We just hung out a lot more during lunch. I began dating her because one of the guys in my class started sniffing around. I read a lot and had a fairly urbane manner of speaking, so he grew suspicious. Somewhere in the second month of our “dating,” I realized that this wasn’t going to work.

I tried. I tried to be straight.  And it just didn’t work.

I wanted to be straight because it would be easier. I pictured myself hitting on every girl I liked—getting shot down, sure, but not all the time. I thought I would automatically like sports and outdoor activities.  I thought I would be able to relate to my dad better.

Most importantly, though, when I pictured myself as straight, I pictured myself as a husband to a loving wife and a father to great kids. That’s what I wanted: a family. I remember writing an essay in seventh grade. The prompt was to explain where you wanted to be in ten years.  I talked about the unsurprising stuff—famous author, lots of books, blah, blah, blah.  Then I wrote about how I wanted three kids, two sons and a daughter. One of the sons would play baseball, the other one, piano. The daughter would enjoy hiking and painting.They would all have an intense love of books.

If I was gay, I knew I couldn’t have those things. Gay people couldn’t get married.

Then the world opened its eyes, and I did, too.

I’ve never been in a serious relationship. I never really saw the point. Even when I lived in Austin, TX, an oasis of blue among a sea of red, I never really dated. In fact, I made a point to never be around other gay men, to avoid them. I convinced myself that I couldn’t stand other gay men.  One day, I really am going to have to give up these delusions.

I was afraid Unlike Edith Windsor, the woman whose case annihilated DOMA, I was afraid to fall in love, (please forgive the cliché.)  What would I do with a partner of four decades who died and the law taxed me? What would I do with a sick partner who I wasn’t allowed to see in the hospital? What would I do with a partner who I couldn’t even file taxes with? Filing taxes is the most banal thing in the world and if you can’t do it with someone you love, why do it at all?

Then this morning happened. The ban against gay marraige is unconstitutional.  I can get married. I can fall in love, get married, have kids, and raise a family.  I can sit by my partner’s hospital bed, I can have a companion to file taxes with. I can do these things.  And they’ll be legitimate. They won’t just be valid in my and my partner’s eyes. My currently theoretical marriage will be legitimate in everyone’s eyes.

DOMA is dead, but may marriage live forever.


*Religious arguments have not been addressed here, because I don’t see them as relevant to my personal stance.

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