10/07/2013 09:10 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Son Didn't Live to See Gay Marriage Legalized, But He'd Be Dancing in the Streets

There was dancing in the streets in my hometown of Pittsburgh last June when the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Celebrants understood that marriage for same-sex partners would not soon be readily available throughout the U.S., but major bricks in the legal barriers preventing it had been torn down.

DOMA became law in 1996, the year before my 31-year-old gay son died of AIDS. In those days, people like my son were closeted, mostly to the larger outside world, and many to their own families. Members of the general public back then often maintained they didn't know any gay people. Seventeen years later, nine million people in the U.S. (3 percent of our population) identify openly as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. These brave men and women have earned the increasingly strong support they are receiving to have their unions recognized as legal marriages.

sheila collins

Since the defeat of DOMA, my home state of Pennsylvania has been hopping with political activity. The only state in the northeast that does not allow same-sex marriage, the pressure's been on to, as one Democratic spokesperson put it, "be on the right side of history," or defend the sanctity of marriage and the state's right to determine who gets to marry.

  • July 11 - The Pennsylvania ban on same-sex marriage is challenged by a federal lawsuit and Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, declines to defend the law because she finds it "wholly unconstitutional."
  • July 24 - Suburban Philadelphia court clerk D. Bruce Hanes, citing federal precedent, begins issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian citizens.
  • July 30 - PA Department of Health files a lawsuit against the county clerk.
  • Sept. 5 - Republican Governor Tom Corbett hires outside counsel at $400 an hour to defend Pennsylvania's sanctity of marriage state law amidst public furor that he's wasting taxpayer dollars.
  • Sept 12 - PA judge orders county clerk, after he has issued 174 licenses, to stop issuing licenses. A couple, who were issued a license, sues the governor, asking that their union be recognized by the state.

In spite of all this somewhat entertaining political fervor, as a parent of a gay son, I consider the trump card not lawyers, but family members of gay and lesbian people. Now joining the parents of gay children are the children of gay parents. Justice Anthony Kennedy brought them front and center in his majority opinion regarding the federal law, "DOMA humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples...."

Change towards what I believe to be inevitable is happening quickly now. But things have not moved swiftly enough for this mother who, in the mid-1990s, wanted for her gay son what he wanted for himself -- that it be okay that the love of his life was a man, and that he be allowed to marry and raise children. My son was hopeful and perhaps a prophet when he believed that someday there would be a cure for AIDS and that someday, gay people like himself would be able to marry. Neither of these developments occurred in time for him. But wherever he is now, I like to imagine that he and his fellow compatriots know that our culture is well on its way toward both goals, and that their spirits are dancing in the streets with us.