Simon Williamson

Ding Dong Doma is dead

2013-06-27 07:38

Simon Williamson

In so many ways the USA leads the world, and in so many it remains in its own past. The country took a massive step forward on Wednesday when the US Supreme Court struck down the Defence of Marriage Act (Doma) - an ugly piece of legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton, that forbade the American national government from recognising marriages or civil unions by couples of the same sex.
Due to this outrageously discriminatory law being canned on Wednesday, gay couples in the USA can finally live their lives with thousands fewer worries that were being sustained by little more than varying degrees of bigotry.

New rights

If there is any doubt that this is a really big deal, look no further than the new rights of gay couples to exist similarly to their straight equivalents:

I have a friend who is in a long-term relationship with a woman she loves very much. Her nearly-teen daughter, whom she brought into the family, knows the women as the only parents she has ever had. The couple is not married because they live in a state where it is not permitted. But should the mother of the child die, there is no guarantee under law that the girl's other parent will continue being her parent - due to the illegality of gay marriage in their state, she is not legally the next of kin. The girl's grandparents are. She does not actually exist anywhere legally when it comes to the parenting of the child. The eradication of Doma fixes this.
Roger Gorley of Kansas City, Missouri, was arrested by hospital security for trying to remain by the bedside of his dying husband with whom he shared a joint power of attorney contract - required because their marriage is not recognised in Missouri. Until yesterday, Gorley had absolutely no legal manner in which to see his dying partner. Now that Doma has been struck down, Gorley is legally family.
Because such marriages now constitute family in the eyes of the federal government, tax returns can be filed together, health insurance applying to the family can be deducted before taxation (really, there is no point in giving gay couples a smaller portion of their salary), and federal benefits are recognised properly; notably the military is now sorting this out too. When one half of a gay couple was killed in war, there was no compensation or federal relief for the half of the couple that survived, like there was for straight couples.

Massive step for human rights
And most importantly, gay couples who are half-American can now live together properly. I, a South African, married my American husband in December in Cape Town. We are one of the lucky couples, as I am a citizen of one of the very few countries in the world that recognises gay marriage, which meant that we could always live together.

If Doma was not canned, I would have been forced to leave the country when my visa runs out at the end of next year. Which would mean that due to one bigoted law, my husband would not have been able to live in his own country. Due to the scratching out of this law, we are able to apply for a visa based on federal recognition of our marriage, and can decide where we want to live based on where we actually want to live, not determined by which government finds it convenient.
Although the fight for gay marriage is not over in the USA, or the world, and the rights of people in our community, such as transgendered folks, are not codified in law, Wednesday was a massive step for basic human rights in America: the right to be with one's spouse who is dying in hospital, the right to live in the same country, the right to not pay more tax for no other reason than the couple is of the same gender.
And while the religious right is going to perform for the next few years, not once did anyone mention a church, mosque, synagogue or anything else. These are all merely basic civil rights given to people by government, now in a much fairer manner.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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