Ding-Dong! DOMA’s Dead (and I feel, well—butch)

Everywhere I turned this spring, opinions on gay marriage smacked me in the kisser—letters to the editor of our local paper, in the blogosphere, on the radio, at the water cooler, in line at the grocery. The possibility the Supreme Court would allow gay marriage nationwide set people talking, thinking, haranguing. The published ruling has done little to quell the fervor.

While the high court did strike down a key provision of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the justices punted on gay marriage, throwing the matter back to the states. Here in Indiana our governor supports legislative efforts to enshrine anti-marriage equality language in the constitution.


Nationally, the debate over gay marriage might well be a football game: opposing teams, all muscle and meanness, ready to knock the other down. The ball kicked around, thrown from one player to another. Points scored, ground gained and lost. How butch. Whole lot of shouting, impassioned emotions, media frenzy. Gives people something to talk about anyway.

I’ve done more than run my mouth. My husband and I married in Ontario, Canada in 2005. I resent hearing our wedding referred to as “a so-called gay marriage.” I detest our relationship being treated as a plaything, an object of examination and discussion on the state and national stage, strangers setting themselves up as authorities on the merits of our loving, debating our worthiness, deciding whether or not we should be allowed to marry whom we love.

It rings all too familiar. My coming out in 1995 signaled the end of my marriage to a woman and the beginning of a long child custody battle. From a ringside seat in the courtroom, I listened as a parade of experts questioned my integrity and motives, testified gay people have no business being parents, warned of dire consequences were I to be granted prolonged contact with my children.

No ruling by any court defines who I am on the inside. I knew this then as I do now. But as I have learned by experience, legal decisions pack a wallop. In my case, the county court restricted contact with my children, limited what I could say to them, where we could go, what we could do, whom they could meet. I appealed. The appellate court ruled the state had a compelling interest in protecting my children against the dangers I posed as an out gay father.

I remained under court order not to use the word “gay” around my children, not to discuss sexuality with them. Other people in my sons’ lives operated under no such restriction. My children told me they listened to cassette tapes from a Religious Right organization vehemently opposed to gay persons.

“Dad, what you are doing is not right,” my youngest son said. “You’re going to hell.”

Before long, my eldest (then age 10) refused to have anything to do with me. At 14, my twins sons told a judge they were distressed over my homosexuality. They obtained a restraining order preventing me from visiting. I haven’t seen them since. My children are now ages 25, 22 and 22. Talk about the long arm of the law.

And now the Supreme Court has punted on gay marriage. But they gave proponents of marriage equality great field position. And from the sounds of it, the game is not over yet.

No matter how it plays out, this won’t change: Gay or not, a person’s true worth, dignity and intrinsic value does not depend on any ruling by any court. Straight or gender variant, Muslim or Jew, diehard Southern Baptist or radical faerie, rich or poor, conventional or way out there—we are all human and deserve humane treatment.

Will we get it? Will we give it? It’s first and ten.

This essay appeared in the August issue of The Community Letter

Illustration courtesy, queergettingmarried.com