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The End of 'Skim-Milk Marriage'? A Response to the Supreme Court's DOMA and Prop 8 Rulings

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"The days of skim-milk marriages are over," Roberta Kaplan, attorney for Edith Windsor, declared this morning after the Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and ruled that the proponents of Prop 8 had no standing to bring that case to the Supreme Court. The surrounding crowd roared in joy. MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, who was broadcasting Kaplan's speech, grinned. Across the country, same-sex couples and their allies celebrated this grand victory in the struggle for LGBT equality under the law. But here in Oregon, where a state amendment bans same-sex marriage, I sat before the television sipping skim milk.

On the television, the plaintiffs and attorneys in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases gave celebratory interviews. MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts grinned in awe as his interview with the victorious plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case was interrupted when the plaintiffs received a congratulatory phone call from President Obama. As I watched their reaction to the president's words, a familiar feeling, one that I never wanted to feel again, returned.

On election night of 2008, my fiancé and I celebrated in our Los Angeles apartment as Barack Obama became the first U.S. president of African descent. We rushed to the No on 8 post-election party to celebrate with the other volunteers who had worked to defeat Proposition 8, which would strip us of our equal marriage rights in California. The pre-election polls had indicated that equality would triumph. The months of television commercials insinuating that LGBT persons were perverts, the family and friends that we'd lost by speaking out for equality, and all the sacrifices we'd endured would be worth it, because in a country with a black president, equality was a reality.

Then the polling results came in from Los Angeles County. The echoes of "yes we can!" faded, as the majority of California's voters shouted, "No you can't!" While the nation celebrated a historic step toward equality, my joy turned to sadness and anger. We should have gotten married before the election. We should have done more to combat the Yes on 8 campaign. We should have done many things. A tension-packed nausea spread throughout me. Pain eradicated my joy. Hope died. Frustration remained.

That feeling returned this morning as I sat before the television watching Thomas Roberts and Rachel Maddow interviewing the triumphant same-sex couples following the Supreme Court's rulings. My 2011 marriage in my home state of Iowa is now federally recognized. For that, I am overjoyed. I'm thankful that Prop 8 is officially and finally unconstitutional. I celebrate for my California friends, who fought to preserve their equality in 2008 and to regain it since then. But anger and frustration temper my joy.

Having moved to Oregon for my husband's work, I continue to be a second-class citizen. I'm nauseated that the Supreme Court left open the door for states and out-of-state-funded ballot propositions to strip minorities of their civil rights. I'm sickened by the rulings of the past few days that gutted the Voting Rights Act and possibly affirmative action. I fear for the future of equality for all Americans, not just those who live in states that "legalize" equality.

In Oregon and 36 other states, skim-milk marriages and marriage bans remain the law. Same-sex couples live in legal limbo. For us, there is no United States of America. There are the United States of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, D.C., Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and California. Here we are equal. But there are the remaining 37 Disjointed States of America, where our rights remain subject to the whim of the ballot box, where we may be denied access to our spouse during a medical emergency, and where commercials spouting homophobic and unscientific bigotry can be funded by out-of-state hate groups to frighten and mislead the public into supporting future ballot initiatives with the same unconstitutional amendments as Proposition 8.

The Supreme Court had a chance to end this cycle of injustice in the United States but chose not to. For those of us in the other 37, the battle continues. Achieving marriage equality in Oregon, not to mention throughout the South, is not going to be easy. I applaud Roberta Kaplan for all she has done to get DOMA overturned. She is one of my heroes. But the days of skim-milk marriage are not over.

If you feel the same mix of joy turned to anger, sadness, and frustration that I feel today, then act. Call your political representatives, volunteer for your state's LGBT-rights groups, or consider suing your state. My husband and I contacted a lawyer before I sat down to write this piece. If the federal government can no longer discriminate against same-sex couples, why can Tennessee and Montana? If California's voters cannot amend their state's constitution to strip the rights of married same-sex couples, why can Hawaii and Michigan's voters? It's far past time for equality in all fifty states. Until we achieve that, the days of skim-milk marriage rule.