Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision felling part of the Defense of Marriage Act is about the profound, and the mundane, about who we are as a nation and how we live from day to day.
We settled the profound part long ago in Massachusetts. We are all equally human. Love belongs to everyone, gay or straight. “The decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition,” wrote Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, in the state’s landmark Supreme Judicial Court decision legalizing same sex marriage here in 2003. Denying that momentous act to a class of people violates our fundamental principles.
The following August, Norma Scogin and Sherry Quirk married on a balmy, blue-sky day, surrounded by 80 friends and relatives at a pretty restaurant in Westport. They had waited a long time. Scogin first proposed on Maui’s Hamoa Beach back in 1996, when it looked like gay marriage would become legal in Hawaii (it didn’t). By the time their wedding day finally arrived — their daughter Keelin, then 6, appointed herself “ring barrier” — they had fully merged their lives.
Other gay and lesbian couples wed, everybody went on as normal. Despite dire predictions, the sky held over the Commonwealth. This is who we are. And soon, it became the way 11 other states and the District of Columbia are as well (the Supreme Court appears to have added a 13th, California, on Wednesday).
The joy of wedding days has a way of yielding to the less heady practicalities of daily life. The profound makes room for the mundane matters couples must attend to: doing taxes, buying and keeping houses, estate planning. And that’s where the exuberant couples who lined up outside city and town halls for marriage licenses all those years ago bumped up against the limits of their immense victory: DOMA denied them more than 1,000 of the federal benefits given to heterosexual spouses.
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