Join us in celebrating the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. To gear up for the June 26 anniversary, msnbc will feature couples’ and individuals’ reflections on the impact the decision has had on their lives and the future of the LGBT rights fight in the United States.
In the last year, marriage equality has come to nine states. Federal judges have also struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin, though their decisions are on hold pending appeals.
No ban on same-sex nuptials has survived in federal court since DOMA’s demise. And, as of this month, every remaining ban has been hit with a legal challenge. Both marriage equality advocates, and opponents alike, believe it won’t be long before the issue is once again before the U.S. Supreme Court, and ultimately legalized throughout the nation.
Names: Brian Gluckman and Steven Sullivan
City, State: Washington, DC
Professions: Brian Gluckman is a public relations consultant and Steven Sullivan is an human resources systems consultant.
Below are Brian and Steven’s responses to the questions.
Have you noticed a general shift in attitude toward the LGBT community since the Supreme Court ruling?
Brian: Not particularly—there’s been a general, gradual shift that’s been happening over time, but I haven’t seen a particular swing caused by the the ruling itself. That may partly be a view coming from living in one of the gay-friendliest cities in America, though—it’s possible that this is different in the small Texas town from where Steven hails. I’d also say that generally, we’re a lot farther along on issues relating to gays and lesbians than we are on issues relating to bisexuals, and that transgender citizens have been somewhat left behind entirely, which is unfortunate.
Steven: As Brian said, there’s been a change in public opinion that I’ve seen happening over time, but to me it does seem to have accelerated in recent years. I spend a lot of time traveling around the nation for work, often in places that would not be considered especially gay-friendly. Yet, more often than not, I find that people are open and accepting. The prevailing opinion has definitely shifted from “No way” to “Why not?” to “My friend/coworker/family member is gay and deserves to be happy and treated equally under the law.” I attribute some of that to the DOMA ruling last year, and going back a decade before that, the Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003. But there have been a lot of other things that I credit as well. The prevalence of employer-sponsored benefits plans that recognize same-sex partners and spouses as dependents and beneficiaries, coupled with employer non-discrimination policies that include language regarding sexual orientation and gender identity have made it easier for many to be more out in the workplace. The workplace is often where many experience the most diversity in the people they associate with. Exposure and open communication helps alleviate fear of that which is different and unknown. It is a lot easier to understand why gay marriage is important for our society when you personally know someone who is affected by it, and for many, those relationships happen at work. I’ve been amazed to see open dialogue around the subject in places I would have never expected it, including a very conservative, religiously affiliated university I’ve worked with. That said, I think we are still a very long way from universal acceptance. I see the Facebook posts, tweets from political pundits, blog posts, and editorials that still predict the collapse of our society because of gay marriage. So, there is still a lot of work to be done, but the momentum definitely feels like it is on the side of equality on this issue.
What are the ways in which the DOMA ruling has fallen short?
Brian: If you’d asked me 15 years ago which would come first—a non-discrimination act from Congress signed by the president, or same-sex marriage—I would have said the former, for sure. But now, we’re looking at the latter being a fait accompli in possibly as little as five years, while people can still be fired from their jobs or kicked out of their house for being gay. And because of the progress of the marriage rights movement, most straight people don’t realize this is the case, making getting a bill passed in Congress all the harder. Worse, the legislation currently in debate—ENDA—is utterly worthless, having been so gutted of its value.
Steven: Initially, I had some disappointment that the Supreme Court did not go as far as to mandate that all states allow same-sex marriage. I understand the reasons for not going that far with the ruling, but there was a selfish part of me that still wanted it, and knew that there would be some parts of the country where it might take years for marriage equality to happen. However, I’ve been amazed at how quickly things have moved over the past year. It seems like every month there’s a judge someplace using the DOMA ruling as grounds for ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, and often in places I thought would take much longer. Even in Texas we’ve seen a judge rule that the state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. I find that remarkable, and a sign that equal marriage rights for the entire nation will happen relatively quickly.
What would you like President Obama and future leaders to prioritize in terms of LGBT rights?
Brian: President Obama could have signed a non-discrimination order in federal hiring and contracts when he first got into office. He didn’t, and that’s a failure on his part. His reasoning that Congress should pass ENDA is simply wrong. Yes, Congress should pass a non-discrimination act (or better still, amend the Civil Rights Act to cover sexual orientation or sexual identity), but that shouldn’t preclude taking a step now by the administration.
I’d also like to see the State Department do more to ease the visa and immigration process for gays in places like Russia, Nigeria, and Uganda.
Steven: Definitely codifying non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity into federal law. A number of states and many of the largest cities in the nation have already done this, but it is time that the federal government get it done with meaningful, enforceable legislation that guarantees equal protection no matter where you live in the country.
If you were married recently (or plan to marry soon!), how has it affected your lives?
Brian: I don’t think it’ll change anything day-to-day at all—we’ve been together seven years now, so what’s really going to be different? What it will change is that we’ll have the same protections as a couple everyone else has, and that’s very important to me. If something happens, I want Steven to be able to make decisions that need to be made, and I want him to be clearly recognized as the person in charge of making those decisions.
Steven: I agree with Brian. It’s the legal protection that matters most – rights to make medical decisions, rights of inheritance, and access to financial information in the event of an emergency is critical. And, yes, many of those things can be secured through other legal contracts, but marriage conveys all of that, and much more, through just the issuance of a marriage license. That does not negate the need for other documents, like advance directives and powers of attorney, but it does put us on equal footing with heterosexual couples. It also means that if we choose to cover each other through our employer’s health insurance, we are no longer subjected to additional federal, state (if we lived in a state), and local income taxes as a result of that decision. And then there are the small things, like no longer having to complete two customs declaration forms and approach the CBP officer separately when returning to the US from an international trip. Thanks to the DOMA ruling, we can be considered a family by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In the past it was always insane that we could present ourselves as a couple traveling together when entering some countries, but not here at home. Even Zambia gave us more recognition in that regard than the United States did, prior to the DOMA ruling last year.
What are your hopes and dreams for the next generation or [for your children]?
Brian: The Millennials are absolutely fantastic, in my opinion. They don’t get the credit that’s due. They’re more interested in values and morals than money, and connectivity between them is a paramount concern. Let’s face it—gays are not the only group under-served by our current culture. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americas, women in general, none of these groups have an equal seat at the table yet, though we’re moving that way slowly. My hope is that the millennials are the ones to make that change a reality, and that the generation that comes after them embraces the same core as the millennials have.
Steven: My job involves working on college and university campuses nearly every week of the year. I see so much more openness on campus now than when we were students 20 years ago – and at that time, our generation was considered to be fairly revolutionary in its degree of being out at that age. But today, it’s such a non-issue to be gay on campus. Where many in our generation started the coming out process while in college or in their 20s, that’s now happening much earlier. By the time today’s college students arrive on campus, they’ve had out gay friends for years. The GLBT student organizations that were a new thing when we were students are now well into their second decade of existence. So, yes, like Brian, I have great hope for the millennials and those behind them. They seem to be much more committed to equal opportunity for all, and from what I witness walking around campus every day, there really are no walls based on sexual orientation, gender, or race for them.