On Being Equal

06/27/13

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“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~ Nelson Mandela

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You may recall that back in March, I wrote a piece on Why DOMA Matters. I am elated to report (not that you haven’t already heard) that yesterday, in a historic pair of 5-4 rulings on the final day of the term for the United States Supreme Court, the justices struck down the sixteen year old Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to gay couples married under state law, and let stand a ruling that found Proposition 8 (a 2008 voter initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California) unconstitutional. What that means for me: as Californians, Clay (the woman I married June 1) and I can now legally marry, and, after we do, we will have the same rights under federal law as our straight friends and family.

On an evening stroll last night, Clay asked me, If we file our taxes jointly after we get legally married, will we owe less money? I had to break it to her that my accountant mentioned that we might have to pay even more money in taxes by filing together. After a brief sigh, we laughed heartily. Equal rights won’t necessarily mean financial savings. Nevertheless, it feels good. It feels really good.

It feels good, because for so many years, for so many of us, no matter how loving our families of origin (if we were lucky), no matter how normal our lives, no matter how accepting our co-workers, we have lived our lives as outsiders in a system designed (in theory) to support all of its people. As a result of pervasive hatred and ignorance, many of us have lived lives filled with intense shame, discomfort and fear. I think sometimes about the collective pain of LGBT people from generations of this shame — especially LGBT people of my generation and generations before mine — and I am overcome with emotion. This is why we deliberately celebrate Pride — to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, loved, valid, whole human beings, despite (and because of) our differences. We are a family of people united by struggle.

The good news is that the collective pain has been arduously and lovingly channeled into making things better for future generations of LGBT people. Fast forward, from lifetimes of gay shame to 2013: things are changing, and they have been changing rapidly for the past several years. Because of the efforts of so many brave people, something profoundly historic and significant happened yesterday. The government ruled that we should be treated the same under the law, that our relationships are as valid and important as straight relationships, and we deserve the same rights. All those LGBT people you saw sobbing and hugging each other on TV yesterday? That was the collective pain expressing itself as utter relief and joy.

People have asked me over the years if I could wave a magic wand, would I want to be straight. I have always answered no, even back in the 1990′s when my own shame about being gay was at an all time high, when my own pain was most profound. I have never been able to imagine any other life but this, and I cannot imagine being anyone else but who I am. And I am so incredibly proud to be part of a community who has — arduously and lovingly –  fought for its rights, and the rights of future generations. I am so grateful that my niece and nephew (who are now 13 and 11 years old), may become adults in a time when being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered is just as regular or accepted as being straight. I realize we still have a long way to go to get there. There is still so much hate and ignorance, and so many LGBT people live in states where the hope of marriage equality is a pipe dream.

But as I mentioned here, legal gay marriage anywhere (even in a state like New York or California) felt like a pipe dream to me 20 years ago. And yet here we are. And we will keep fighting. Things will keep changing. We will create an environment in this country for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people that is based on acceptance. Love will triumph.

Happy Gay Pride, friends. Happy equality. Happy life.

See you when I get back from my honeymoon July 16.

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