June is LGBT Pride Month across the nation, and I spent June 9th celebrating in Boston, Massachusetts — the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage — with my partner and daughter. Boston Pride has settled into a groove. It’s less outrageous (although there’s still plenty of that to go around) and more politically and socially conscious…and that’s a good thing for the LGBT community. Both Elizabeth Warren, who is challenging incumbent GOP Senator Scott Brown for the late Ted Kennedy’s seat, and Joseph Kennedy III, who is seeking retiring Barney Frank’s House seat marched in the parade (Barney Frank, by the way, marched right beside him). Other political figures marching included Niki Tsongas, who serves Massachusetts’ 5th Congressional District, Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Governor Deval Patrick. There were also more inclusive religious groups marching than I remember seeing in the past. LGBT civil rights groups, like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and MassEquality also marched, along with a number of high school GSAs and college pride groups. Without a doubt, there was plenty to celebrate this year.
Barack Obama became the first sitting president to say that gay people should be able to get married. Personally, I’m of the opinion that we owe Joe Biden a pat on the back for this momentous event. Just prior to Obama making his statement, Joe Biden went on Meet the Press and stated that he’s “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. According to Biden, the concept of marriage boils down to “Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love?” Even though Biden made it clear that those were his personal opinions and that he is just the VP and the president sets policy, a considerable amount of pressure was put on Obama to hasten his evolution on the topic.
The assault on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) continues, slowly chipping away at a law that should never have been enacted to begin with. It was declared unconstitutional for the fourth and fifth times in rapid succession. In Boston, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the 1996 law is unconstitutional because it deprives same-sex couples of the rights and privileges granted to heterosexual couples. The ruling came in two lawsuits, one filed by Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the other by state Attorney General Martha Coakley. In California, just about a week after the Boston decision, a federal court judge declared DOMA unconstitutional in the case of Edie Winsor, the 83-year old widow of Thea C. Spyer, who was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars ($353,053 to be precise) in estate taxes. Had Winsor been married to a man, there would be no taxes on the estate. The judge ordered a refund of the taxes plus interest.
The California case was argued by Paul Clement, who was handpicked by Speaker of the House John Boehner specifically to defend DOMA, something that the president has ordered the Department of Justice not to do because it has been declared unconstitutional in every case. Let’s not forget that Clement is on a $1.5 million retainer paid for by the taxpayers – including those of LGBT Americans.
Also in California, Prop 8 is nearing its end. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it will not rehear the American Foundation for Equal Rights case against Prop 8, leaving only two possibilities: Either same-sex couples will start marrying again in California, or the case will move to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In spite of this, we have a long way to go. We have made progress, but these are baby steps in a long process. The DOMA decisions are narrow in scope – speaking only to the way same-sex couples are treated compared to heterosexual couples. They are not a referendum on the right for gays to marry. The GOP is intent on defending DOMA in court in spite of the fact that, for the first time in history, most Americans support same-sex marriage. And in spite of the president’s support for same-sex marriage, he also said it is an issue for the states to decide. He is unlikely to stick his neck out any further. I disagree with him on that point. It is a Constitutional issue and a question of civil rights. Civil rights issues do not belong on a state ballot. Since when do citizens get to vote who gets equal rights and who doesn’t? It’s an absurd premise.
If we allow it to be an issue for the states to decide, the road gets even longer. Since Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004, eight states have legalized it (mostly in the northeast) while 31 states have banned it. Other nations are far ahead of us on this issue.
And we still have the extreme right-wing element attacking us at every turn. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, recently condemned Pride month and equated our community with adulterers and alcoholics.
Speaking on marriage equality, Perkins said, “We’re talking about redefining the rest of culture and making others both embrace, celebrate and subsidize. We’re talking about changing the laws that will influence what our children are taught in schools, it’s already happening in those states that have legalized same-sex marriage or had it forced upon them by the courts. We’re talking about religious organizations losing their religious freedom.”
This should be a sober reminder that we have work to do because the anti-gay, right-wing zealots will not rest. We should also never forget that, on this long road, there may still be some setbacks. The LGBT community cannot afford to sit back and expect our elected officials to “do the right thing.” We’ve seen where that leads. Nowhere. It’s up to each and every one of us to remain vigilant, get involved, and keep the pressure on.
On that note, Happy Pride Month! For a complete gallery of Boston Pride photos, please click here.