Photo courtesy of The DOMA Project
Last week was one for the history books. The world watched as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases asserting that the U.S. Constitution does not allow states or the federal government to exclude lesbian and gay couples from the institution of marriage.
Day one was the Proposition 8 case. Reports tended to be pessimistic. The tea leaf readers told us that the justices had recoiled at the big ask: marriage equality nationwide for same-sex couples. These same pundits generally agreed that on day two, a slim majority seemed to have little love lost for the narrower issue of the Defense of Marriage Act's unprecedented federal definition of marriage.
Despite this mixed bag, the media breathlessly proclaimed that the gay marriage fight was already won. Most of us were all too busy celebrating future victories to notice the inherent contradiction.
Reality check: It was not smooth sailing for LGBT advocates in the Supreme Court last week, and a home run in both cases is unlikely.
Sure, there were thousands of LGBT activists noisily rallying outside the court, vastly outnumbering the contingent of increasingly fringe opponents. And, yes, it is true that, as Chief Justice John Roberts so inelegantly put it to Edie Windsor's lawyer, "political figures are falling over themselves" to endorse gay marriage. One after another, elected officials have been proudly announcing that their opinions have "evolved" in our favor. Just this week Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) became the 48th and 49th incumbent U.S. senators to trumpet support for marriage equality. Then Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) became the 50th, and only the second Republican in the Senate to defy his party's current platform. Meanwhile, Time blasted the headline "Gay Marriage Already Won" across its cover, along with a sultry photo of a lip-locked same-sex couple. The relentlessly shrill right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh conceded, "The genie is not getting put back in the bottle. And I think that's right. I don't care what this court does with this particular ruling, Proposition 8. I think the inertia is clearly moving in the direction that there is going to be gay marriage at some point nationwide." And even Fox News' Bill O'Reilly agreed that gay and lesbian Americans had essentially won, saying:
The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That's where the compelling argument is: "We're Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else." That is a compelling argument, and to deny that, you've got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn't been able to do anything but thump the Bible.
While this is all very exciting, it could be bad news for proponents of marriage equality. Have we already forgotten that only shortly before California voters passed Proposition 8 in the first place, public opinion polls suggested that this constitutional amendment would be easily defeated on Election Day? Were you one of the many who assumed that Prop 8 would never pass? Did you do anything to help the LGBT community and our allies secure equality in 2008? What are you doing differently now?
Forty-one states still deny same-sex couples the right to marry, and every agency of the federal government denies the very existence of married gay and lesbian couples. We cannot afford to drink the Kool-Aid this time.
Instead, we must continue to share our stories and take inventory of the ways in which discrimination still affects our daily lives. If we do not, if we relax our guard and cease to engage our family, friends, neighbors and elected officials in an ongoing discussion about our shared humanity, we risk missing a crucial opportunity to seize the moment and make this momentum yield actual change in our daily lives. Let's not forget that genuine equality involves far more than marriage. We have a long way to go.
Changing our Facebook profile photos for a hot minute is but a baby step in an otherwise arduous journey. So much remains at stake for countless LGBT families still struggling every day, precisely because we have not won. Reversing legal inequality requires repealing unjust laws or persuading courts to strike them down. It is a "long game" process that cannot be avoided because of a sudden avalanche of confident magazine covers, cheering headlines and newly enlightened politicians.
To this day, the United States federal government offers no protection for married, binational same-sex couples. Two years ago, to great praise from the LGBT community, President Obama denounced DOMA as unconstitutional because it impermissibly denies recognition to married lesbian and gay couples for all federal purposes, including immigration. But did his administration stop enforcing it? No. Lesbian and gay binational couples remain shut out of green cards and fiancé(e) visas, two key elements of our family unification-based immigration system. As a result, LGBT families are still torn apart, forced into exile or left fighting every day to remain together in this country. None of them feel that we have already won, and to say that is an insult to their struggle.
Ariana and Diana are one such couple. They have been together for over a decade. Their beautiful daughter Gabriela is a nursery school student who has no idea that her moms are at the center of the fight for true marriage equality so that she never has to be separated from either of them. Because of DOMA, Ariana cannot sponsor Diana as her spouse to legally live, work or even drive a car in this country. Diana has not been back to Colombia since she first arrived here 12 years ago, seeking safe haven from violence that had claimed many close to her, and threatened her too, especially as a lesbian. She hasn't seen her Colombian family in all these years. They can't get visas to come visit her here, and she is trapped in the U.S., because she could be deported for a minimum of 10 years if she leaves.
Becoming a parent made Diana confront the consequences of discrimination like never before. It meant everything for her to introduce her parents to Gabriela, so Ariana traveled alone with their daughter to meet Diana's parents in Bogotá. As Diana relates the story, they fell in love with their granddaughter. Little Gabriela is the only connection they have to their own daughter. Looking at the photos of her parents with Ariana and Gabriela, Diana brushes away tears. She has no idea when or if she will see her parents again.
Truly fighting for equality means understanding this enduring struggle as if it were your own. Winning requires reaching out within and beyond the LGBT community. The issues we are facing are not merely about sexuality. They are about humanity. Until the basic freedoms that form the bedrock of this country are made available to all citizens equally, we have not yet won, and we cannot declare victory.
Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker Brynn Gelbard started the DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. For more, visit devotecampaign.com, facebook.com/devotecampaign and twitter.com/devotecampaign.
In 2010, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, Lavi Soloway launched the DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples. For more, visit domaproject.org, facebook.com/thedomaproject and twitter.com/gaybinationals.
Follow Lavi Soloway on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lavisoloway
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