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Erin Havel Headshot

History Tempers Us

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On June 26, 1971, my parent's marriage was federally recognized. It was their wedding day and they are a heterosexual couple, so there was no question. Exactly 42 years later on June 26, 2013, my marriage is now federally recognized. I live in Washington State, which allows state marriage equality, and today the Supreme Court struck down a key part of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Today is a day of celebration. However, I'm not fooling myself.

When we look back at history we can see that changing a law did not immediately change attitudes. After President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, there is a false belief that all slaves were freed. Legally that was true, however, it wasn't until June 19, 1865 when the slaves living in Texas even heard the news that the war was over. I'm fairly certain there were people in power who knew they should set free the laborers working for them. Instead, they went on with life as usual, because they knew they could get away with it.

It wasn't 1863 or 1865 when African-Americans were suddenly treated with equality all over the United States thanks to the ending of slavery. It took a hundred years of inequality just to reach 1964 when the Civil Rights Act finally went through. Yet even today, fifty years past the Civil Rights Act, there are still some who don't hire another individual based on race, or religion, or the way they speak. They may not be as vocal about it, because we have laws against it, but it's fairly clear to those watching what is happening. To most of the world it is unimaginable that in America there is still a group of people who continue to question the validity of our president's birth certificate. I can't imagine if John McCain had gotten into office that anyone would continue questioning his birth in the Republic of Panama. These people know it's wrong, but they go on with life as usual, because they know they can get away with it.

If we are learning from history then what we have to look forward to is a much longer time before we, as married couples, will be treated with the same respect as our heterosexual married counterparts. Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled that today is going to help so many people who have been fighting for so long. The gentlemen I refer to as my gay grandfathers were married in New Mexico during the brief time when it was legal. They are in their 80's and have been fighting for these forward steps since they were in their 20's. Both are veterans and because of DOMA being struck down, their military benefits to help care for one another are a little safer today.

Absolutely we should celebrate this momentous step forward, but we cannot blind ourselves to the continued steps we need to take. I'm curious to watch how each state handles the impending questions their courts will take on. I question how they could possibly deny security to some of their citizens when the federal government now recognizes those citizens as equals, but laws don't change hearts. DOMA was an easy tool to use in order to perpetuate bigotry, but with it gone there will be other tools some will find to use. They will know it's wrong, but they will try to get away with it. We have to make sure we don't let them.

Celebrate, yes, especially in this month of Pride, but also remain vigilant. There is more work to do.