Unequal Equality: We Have A Long Way To Go

I wonder if 6.26.13 will become one of those dates, where people 50 years from now will ask, ‘Do you remember?’ and ‘Where were you when you heard the news?’

In case it isn’t, I guess I will answer those questions now.

I was sitting in the passenger seat of my 2004 Honda Element (of the burnt orange variety, in case you were wondering) at a gas station in some random back-hills town about 2 hours inside the border of Pennsylvania. My fiancé and I had just spent one hell of a harrowing extended-weekend “vacation” in the Boston area apartment hunting. We were tired, grouchy and beyond ready to be done with the driving and just in our own home already. Given the rate of rent, the cost of realtor fees and the general stress of fearing every decent, affordable and safe-looking apartment in the city was already rented, we hadn’t exactly been keeping up-to-date with the goings-on in Washington.

So, back to the passenger seat, at a gas station. A quick glance through Facebook on my super-duper smart phone, and I saw that Proposition 8 had been overturned! It cannot be stressed enough how wonderful this moment was for so many people, couples and families. But, it felt like mere seconds before there was a whirr of social media activity and suddenly a text from my mother, “Marriage!!! Yay!!!”

There was excitement. I jumped out of the car, blurted out the news to my fiancé and we kissed, there in front the dingy gas station, where a family of tourists were starting to stare. It is exciting, of course! The supreme court’s ruling to overturn DOMA (signed into law by good old Bill Clinton in 1996) means that gay couples married in the 12 states that allow gay marriage (plus the District of Columbia) will have the same federally mandated benefits as heterosexual married couples. “DOMA had blocked the access of same-sex married couples to more than 1,100 federal benefits.” (NBCNews)

What did it feel like? As someone preparing to enter into the commitment of marriage, it’s an odd sensation to hear President Obama proclaim, “This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.” My marriage would be recognized by my own federal government? I don’t have to be ok with just a “skim milk” marriage?

This is a huge moment – of course, but all I can really keep thinking is, we are at the bottom of the mountain. I am grateful to be 23 years old and have already made it this far, but there is a steep up-hill climb, and we cannot forget that. How will gay couples be provided federal rights in the sates that allow gay marriage, and not in the states that do not? What sort of bazaar country are we living in when you can have full rights as a married couple in one place, cross over a border for a job, perhaps; for an education, maybe – and find you have none? Aren’t all the other states still just enshrining the same hate and bigotry in law? Our government is still telling us, ‘here, you may have full rights, in these specific places.’ In other words, there are certain places the gay folk are welcome, but otherwise, steer clear.

Tom Rastrelli said it better than I can: “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.”

I doubt if I would have this mentality, had I not just spent 6 days in a state where not even a single realtor balked at my apartment search with my female partner, or questioned the fact that we are engaged. We even checked into multiple one-bed hotel rooms with no response but a smile. We crossed the state line, and knew we had to stop at a hotel in some sketchy town in Pennsylvania. The difference between Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal (by the way) and PA was clear. The young girl working at the desk had the disdainful look of, ugh as we paid for our room. When you’re faced directly with hate, it’s hard to ignore; especially after at 7 hour car ride that had started at 4 in the afternoon.

The difference served as a reminder that, although I will soon be citizen of a state where I can be happily married to my fiancé and eventually enjoy the same federal benefits as other married couples, the many LGBTQ+ couples in states where we are still unwelcome continue their bigotry, unaltered.

Yes, we may have finally made it to the foot of the mountain. But, Christ, it’s a long way to go.

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