The Undeniably Indefensible Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

“Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage, go together like a horse and carriage. This, I tell ya, brother, you can’t have one without the other.”

Back in 1955 when Sammy Cahn wrote those lyrics, you really couldn’t…have one without the other. Or at least it was highly frowned upon. Of course, the euphemistic “love” of the song likely implied sex (“Dad was told by Mother, you can’t have one without the other“) and, Lord knows, no one in that hoary day and age was having any of that without the sanctity of marriage, right?

Those lyrics, while sweet and nostalgic, are contextually quaint in the 21st century, musical evidence that concepts and social perceptions of marriage, sex, and adult relationships have changed as society and its culture and mores evolved. What was once rigidly held as indisputable truth, common custom or even law in one era can later be determined as antiquated in another (ancient Hebrew law required a man to marry his deceased brother’s widow). When you make laws that mandate the definition of a social custom, you will always be, in essence, trying to bottle lightning, as something that evolves simply cannot be held in rigid place.

davies-aussem-family_huffpo

I want you to look at this portrait of a family. A beautiful group comprised of two loving adults, devoted and fully committed to each other in a monogamous relationship for many years now, and their newborn son (biological child of one, carried by the other). Because these are two women in a lesbian relationship, by virtue of law they are denied the right to marry. Instead, they are obligated to take many extra steps, which heterosexual married couples are not, to protect their shared home, finances, and retirement; they are required to have ironclad documents to mandate their responsibilities and legal relationships with each other, including legally adopting their own child.

How do you feel when you look at then? Threatened, curious, righteous, drawn-in, horrified, open-minded; welcoming? How you feel when you look at them says everything about how you feel about the very real ramifications of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act.

Similar to the ridiculously worded “Repealing The Job Killing Health Care Law Act,” a sophomoric attempt to slip enough inflammatory language into a title to hopefully trigger fear (God forbid they simply went with “Repealing The Universal Health Care Act”), the “Defense of Marriage Act” is an equally bludgeoning title meant to stir discomfort, feelings of protectiveness and, without a doubt, a dollop or two of homophobia.

wedding-day-sepiaWell …

I am a heterosexual woman married for over two decades and I’m here to tell you: my marriage does not need defending, thank you. No one else, gay or straight, has one damn thing to do with how my marriage does or does not succeed. Nor does the value of marriage, the institution of marriage, or the strength of marriage change one iota based on the marriage of any other person, gay or straight. It is, in fact, a rather silly notion.

Silly, too, that Marriage Defenders never express concern about potential erosion of the institution based on the many heterosexual shenanigans we witness on a daily basis: the innumerable dalliances of the famously married (i.e., Tiger, Jesse, John Edwards, etc.), the fast-food marriages of some (Britney’s few-day nuptials, the legendary Larry King’s war chest of wives; Kelsey, Liz, blah, blah, blah), those who treat marriage as convenient business arrangements while stashing a “friend” in every port; even every day folk who seem to feel promises of fidelity last only as long as the afterglow. Face it, while many of us have done a damn fine job of it, marriage in the hands of heteros has been beaten and battered, disregarded and taken for granted, all with little concern for societal impact. Yet the Defenders still insist that gay and lesbian couples, some of whom have been together longer than the combined years of Larry King’s entire roster, will bring about the destruction of the institution. It would be laughable if it weren’t so heartbreaking for the thousands of couples who are not allowed the same rights and considerations as the serial marry-ers, the players, the Marriage Defenders and … Larry King.

What’s behind all this fear and loathing of gay marriage? Three things:

1. Religious belief
2. Homophobia
3. Fear of change

It is understood that several religions, inclusive of Christian, Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, Sikhism, and Islam, condemn or consider homosexual acts sinful. It follows, then, that members of these religions would condemn or consider unacceptable same sex marriage. OK, that’s a reason I can wrap my mind around. I don’t agree with it, in fact, I’ll never understand how a connection to God by way of religion includes and promotes intolerance, but I can at least see, if you are a member of one of these religions, the reasoning behind your disdain for same sex marriage.

But…

Your religious beliefs cannot and should not trump the freedoms and civil rights of others who do not subscribe to your beliefs. Believe away, that is your right, but we are a country bound by separation of church and state and laws cannot be mandated based on the religious beliefs of any one group. Impose those beliefs on people who choose to join your religion but it ends there … you cannot impose them on the country or culture at large; that is a foundational tenet upon which this country was built. And we put much stock in that, don’t we?

Which leaves homophobia and fear of change. Here’s another song:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, it’s got to be taught from year to year, it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” (South Pacific, Rogers & Hammerstein, 1949).

If you’ve been taught intolerance, as many have, please unlearn it. Educate yourself. Open your mind and your heart. It won’t hurt you and society at large will be better for it.

But ah, yes…fear of change; that’s a tough one for a lot of people.

definition

The wheels of evolution and advancement often turn slowly and there is something so endemic in human nature to hold on to what is familiar, what we’ve always had, “the way it’s been.” Change requires that we step out of comfort and familiarity, really examine what we’re afraid of and ask, “Why?” Often times there is no answer. We’re just used to something and want it to stay that way. I get it. But some change – this change we’re talking about here – requires acceptance and empathy, something there’s simply not enough of these days. The ability to look at other people and consider their lives, their desires, needs, hopes and joys, and actually feel a bit of what they feel. And when you can look at a loving couple that is, perhaps, set up a tad differently than your own relationship, but still realize the hopes and dreams that run parallel, perhaps you can face this inevitable change without defensiveness but rather a sense of inclusion.

And lastly, because we can’t leave out this very weary question posed to me just the other day: if we allow the definition of marriage to include same sex couples, why not polygamists, family members, etc.?

Because most people in our society subscribe to the custom of marriage as a kinship between two people. While there are sub-cultures and sects that traffic in all manner of bizarre and unconventional co-habitations (say, Charlie Sheen and his goddesses), even Hugh Hefner is marrying only one woman! That question also supposes that there’s any demand for a legal definition of marriage that includes polygamy or family members … there isn’t. No big lobby out there fighting that fight. If that ultimately comes at some hellacious point in our evolution, we can take it up then.

Until then, there is no reason — outside of religion, fear of change or homophobia — to spurn same sex marriage. It changes nothing for heterosexual couples and families, it has no negative impact on communities or the children being raised by the gay parents; in fact, those children thrive, even excel.

Marriage does not need defending. If your marriage does, I feel for you and suspect your problems lie much deeper than whether or not gay couples can marry. I would also guess that most who feel that marriage needs defending have never really known, been close to, or witnessed the bonds of devoted, monogamous gay or lesbian couples and their families. I have. Many. My son grew up surrounded by deeply committed gay couples who remain a part of our family of friends. My son is also a heterosexual who evolved with an inclusive, compassionate heart and I believe he and his generation will do much to bring this country to a brighter, less divisive reality.

Please take one more look at this family above… it’s important to put a human face on the issue, get a sense of the very real people who are being hurt and denied by this bill. Meet my friends: Jodie, DeAnne and their sweet baby boy. Then tell me … what could these good, worthy people possibly do to your marriage that needs defending?

Photographs courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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34 thoughts on “The Undeniably Indefensible Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

  1. I could not agree more. NPR had a story on gay marriage and Lily was asking questions the other day. I put it simply: In some states, a woman and woman or a man and a man may get married if they love each other. In others, they may not. That’s not fair. My husband turned to me and said, “such a hard thing to explain to kids.” I disagree. Kids get it, it’s the adults that don’t.

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    1. LDW

      Ain’t it the truth?! I always found my son very receptive to the logic of tolerance…you may have to dress the words differently but fair seems fair to most kids. Thanks for weighing in, Jill; so many people still struggling with this issue and I’m hoping we can trend in the same direction as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Best to you. LDW

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  2. You are so good! I don’t remember when I have read anything quite as thoughtful as this recently. Very interesting to find somebody with some different opinions on this subject – so much yelling and screaming most of the time, lots of fear and ignorance. Thank you very much for writing this up. Gay and lesbian families everywhere will appreciate it.

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  3. Hi, I was reading another thing about this issue on another blog. Interesting. Your perspective on it is diametrically contradicted by what I read earlier. I am still pondering over the opposite points of view, but I’m leaning to a great extent toward yours. And irrespective, that’s what is so excellent about modern-day democracy and the marketplace of ideas online.

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    1. LDW

      I agree about the democracy of the idea marketplace. I’m glad you’ve got an open even mind to consider ideas that don’t necessarily align with your community. Stay open and keep reading. I appreciate the comment. LDW

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  4. Cris

    Back in 1955, Sammy Kahn could never written a song about love and “out-of-wedlock” children. Oh no. I don’t think a lot has changed, except with the advent of reproductive choices by women, the feasibility of choosing when to have children was increased. The rhythm method couldn’t keep the beat.

    I think we can all agree that the best place for a child is in a loving home. What that home looks like is not the critical point – the focus should be on what the home provides for those family members.

    I think the evolution of thought is opening on this issue. Like you, I believe it’s no biggie to the younger generation and I think we have those who bravely came out of the closet to thank for that leap.

    I neither recall a lot of discussion of homosexuality or identification of it as a young person – perhaps it was the crowds I travelled in. So, when I first considered its existence, there was a curiosity and a little self-consciousness about raising the topic.

    Once gays self-identified, the dimensions for acceptance increased.

    Sure, there are still the haters (funny that both Tim and I used both your song references in our blogs). But, opening the closet allowed the discussion to open, the issues to be debated and people of fair minds to choose where they stood on the issue of civil rights for all.

    Bottom line – that child is fortunate to be surrounded by warmth and seeing the daily love between two people as the example.

    Great pix as well, L!

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    1. LDW

      Cris –

      It’s funny, I, too, despite growing up in the very square midwest surrounded by WASPs or fundamentalist Catholics, never heard a word that could be considered anti-gay. Of course, this was before “that’s so gay” became synonymous with something stupid, sentimental or silly, and most likely not many people were actually openly out. I remember getting to the theater department at the University of Illinois and having my first contact with the gay community and suddenly I was aware. The humor (never laughed so much or so hard in my life!), the camaraderie, the depth of connection and conversation, were all so much a part of my experience and I grew deeply attached to the heart and soul of their journey. So many people from that time remain my friends and as I look back, I’m grateful for the influences that surrounded me, bereft of bigotry and intolerance.

      I had a person (straight) say he didn’t think this was much of an issue to most people but I reminded him that even in the very progressive state of California Prop 8 passed and DOMA remains on the books and something Speaker Boehner commits to keeping there. Until those specifics are NOT the case, this IS “much of an issue,” particularly to families and children of gay and lesbian couples.

      I can only hope that natural evolution and the wider, more accepting, minds of the younger generations ultimately prove sway over old, exclusionary ideas.

      And so funny that both you and Tim used the same song references….what are the odds of that, particularly considering the inside positioning of “You’ve Got To Be Taught” in the South Pacific soundtrack. I guess we’re just of like mind, my friend!

      Thanks for the comments on the pix, too. They were an attractive bunch!

      LDW

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    1. LDW

      Thanks, Dominges. I’ll be keeping an eye on the evolution of this very important issue and will update the blog as things evolve. Appreciate you writing. LDW

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  5. Jaclyn Delfi

    excellent points altogether, you just gained brand new reader. this topic is a heated one in my circle and i sometimes think no one is thinking too clearly. love is love is love. hopefully this debate will be over in the future, much like dont ask dont tell. we need to progress.

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    1. LDW

      Jaclyn: Obviously I share your perspective and agree that humanity needs to get past the point of limiting and discriminating against those we don’t understand or agree with. More and more voices will speak out and higher ideals will take hold…of this I’m convinced. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. LDW

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  6. dwight

    The most difficult thing is to find a blog with unique and fresh content but your posts are not alike. This story in particular is one that not too many are willing to write about. Bravo.

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  7. Leeann Demoura

    Hello. great stuff once again. I enjoyed coming to your website because you always write great pieces. Fabulous post – I’ve been arguing this topic with lots of people but you put faces to it. Thanks!

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    1. LDW

      You’re welcome, Leeann. Sometimes “faces” is what’s needed to humanize a controversial topic. I think too many who hold on to ignorance and intolerance have very little experience with the personal pain DOMA inflicts on families and couples. Time to let it go. LDW

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  8. ryan a

    So many of us out here wonder what is going to happen to this issue. Some of us or our friends are ill and old and want to get married before it’s too late. It’s time for our government to legislate against hate and discrimination and allow personal matters such as love and marriage (should I start singing?:) to be personal. We want nothing from anyone else, we have no desire to take away from the marriages of others, we just want the right to have the same. Thank you for writing our story. I wish people in government would read it.

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    1. LDW

      Beautifully put, Ryan, and of course I agree with you. If it makes you feel any better, I sent a link to this article to John Boehner’s website and suggested others do the same. Voices of inclusion, tolerance and understanding have to speak up and speak louder than those who hate, fear or simply can’t deal with change. I agree, it’s time. Hang in there. LDW

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  9. Omar

    You make a lot of good points on this blog, especially this particular topic of DOMA. Keep up the great work. Change comes from great work.

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  10. tamyra t.

    I feel like you could probably teach a class on how to make a great blog. This is a fantastic article on an issue that is hard for a lot of people to embrace or accept. Using the family was a great idea! I also have to say how much I appreciate your design. With the photos and images you certainly know how to make your blog more than just a rant about an issue. Youve made it possible for people to connect. Good for you, because not that many people know what theyre doing.

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    1. LDW

      Thanks, Tamyra. It’s important to me that the issues are communicated so I try to make the whole package appealing…glad to know you found that useful! And I appreciate your comments about the story and the blog in general. Really appreciate the feedback. LDW

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  11. K Barton

    If you’re still on the fence about this topic, I’d suggest you read this article. Names and faces bring alive the real impact of this ridiculous bill. Pay attention, then you’ll know where to stand. Good job.

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  12. I think more people need to read blogs like this. Its so important to not only know how to construct a great blog to get people interested (and youve done just that), but to say something important about important issues (which this is). The content is great, the photos are perfect for what youre trying to say. Awesome. Really awesome! Cant wait to read more.

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  13. Marlen

    This article touches home with me in ways you would not imagine. I come from I dont know , a traditionaly home, I guess you can call it. My parents are heterosexual and their relationship is a faboulous one. I too am a heterosexual and I too found a wonderful man married 25 years and we still say I love you , hold hands and feel gittery when we see each other across the room. So when my ever so desired daughter came out to us two years ago and said she was a lesbian I have to admit as wrong as it might sound our perfect world stopped. Totally destroyed and has never felt right again. And whats wierd is that theres really no reason for this feeling of devastation. She is healthy, she is beautiful, she is a good person, a good daughter, too good sometimes. But the feeling of pure and otter unhappiness is just there. I mask it great, she does not feel it at all, And the reason I know this is because she is her normal self, and we talk about her life style like if it didnt rip my heart out every time. She says, Mom im so glad you are cool with this. So I hope I am doing a good job in not ruining her happiness in any way. But this marriage thing, I hope, pray, wish and anything else thats out there that I can be civil with that when it happens. I truly beleive that will be our downfall. I dont know why, everything you say makes a whole lot of sense but the ill feeling I get when I think of it is inevitable. I dont know if its fear of change, or homophobia or what it is. Becuase I have friend that are gay that visit me and are part of my family so I never saw us as a homophobic family, but anyway. One day at a time is my motto in life and I try to find happiness in anything I can and as often as I can. But its not as easy as you describe it, wish it was. Thank you for your blog , I hope the world does change and all this confusion, hate and lack of acceptance does occur , for my childs sake and for mine.

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    1. LDW

      i have to say, Marlen, I applaud your honesty in speaking so frankly about the difficulties you’re having with your daughter’s coming out. I think that event in many families can be difficult to deal with and it’s admirable that you’re so unvarnished in expressing your feelings and reactions.

      But here’s what I want to say to you: NOT talking to your daughter about your true feelings and pretending that everything is OK with you when it isn’t, is – I believe – a trap. Ultimately that charade is likely going to come back and hit you in the face. Pretense in human relationships almost never turns out well, especially with immediate family, and often it destroys the very relationship you’re trying so hard to preserve.

      First of all, it’s important to realize there’s nothing wrong with feeling a loss regarding your daughter’s orientation. You had a lifelong, understood idea of who and what she was and there was some expectation of her future: a “normal” marriage to a man, children; life as an average heterosexual woman. Now you find out she’s a lesbian, something that not only has sucker-punched you, but, odds are, may have a similar effect on members of your community of family and friends. Tough to ride that out in some situations. But what I’ve learned is, even in some of the most extreme cases of negativity, with shared communication and experiences, with repeated contact and the ability to see the person is STILL the same wonderful person; with just time spent together, even some of the most hardcore rejecters will learn to accept. Especially if they love someone. Your daughter sounds like a lovely person and I would guess that even those who might have a knee-jerk reaction when they first hear the news will slowly learn to accept her for what she is and who she is. And if they don’t….as the saying goes, they aren’t people you’d want in your life anyway.

      You don’t mention if there is a religious component in this for you. If there is, that’s a tough one. I personally think any religion that preaches intolerance towards someone because of their innate, God-given self is a terribly misguided one. But even in some religions that do preach that intolerance, there are many in the fold who will reject that particular unloving stance and make up their own minds about the issue. That would always be my suggestion!

      You don’t sound like a typical homophobe; you sound like a woman who’s disappointed, who feels like she’s lost something and, perhaps, feels some shame or embarrassment about what your daughter is and how others might react to that. All understandable. But somehow you’ve got to get past that for the sake of your daughter, your family and yourself. Your daughter has been honest with you, at great potential expense to herself in terms of risking your rejection. You owe it to her (and yourself) to be honest in return. She deserves your candor, your truth, even the tougher expression of your emotions. She deserves to have the opportunity – with you – to work through those “feelings of devastation” with honest and frequent conversation and repeated connection. There is no other way to go. You risk too much by misleading her and hiding your true feelings. It may be difficult at first; you may find yourselves pulling away from each other for awhile, or having feelings of anger and resentment, but if you truly want to be an integral, meaningful part of each other’s lives, you’ll have to slog through it, however long it takes. I guarantee you, no matter how hard it gets or how long it takes – or even how unsettled it may ultimately feel – truth, in this case, will always be better than the charade.

      Go look at the documentary about Cher’s “son’s” sex-change; see how incredibly hard it was – and still is, in some ways – for Cher to deal with something so extreme, for many of the same reasons; the salient point being that honest communication is the only remedy. Frankly, the love for your child has to transcend everything else, has to compel you toward a (hopeful) change of heart, mind and spirit. Life is short; don’t waste one minute of it distancing from this remarkable woman who is your daughter; your “healthy…beautiful…good daughter” who deserves your love and will cherish your efforts to overcome your struggle with who she is. Tell her everything you’re feeling and give her a chance to work through it with you. I have a feeling she’s up for the journey.

      Thanks for sharing and I hope you don’t mind me sharing in response…

      My most sincere best to you. LDW

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  14. lori

    Just read post re. empty next syndrome. my son has finished his 2nd year of college and my daughter just finished her 6th. she will be leaving, AGAIN, to spend a year intership as a campus pastor and then come home and leave AGAIN, to return to seminary for a year to become and ordained minister. this ens never ever gets any easier. all this coming and going is so exciting for them and so inwardly heartbreaking for this mom/cheerleader. i know this is as it should be and i am immensely proud of my children, it just is not easy.

    that being said, i started to read your blog and read the DOMA blog. lets not dump all christians into the homophobic catagory. some of us believe, instruct our children and hang with people who believe in a god who created us, all of us and did not make mistakes. that he intended us to love and care for one another and be in authentic, committed relationships with one another. period. i always worry that people will think because i am christian and my family is clearly involved in a faith community (albeit a defunct tavern) that we are wacko, hateful, homophobic, judgemental misfits.

    just so you know, some of us are pretty cool! thanks for your open minded, thoughtful style of writing.

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    1. LDW

      Lori:

      Thank you not only for your comment on the Empty Nest articles but for taking the time to explore others. I very much appreciate it.

      I understand your concerns about how Christians are depicted in terms of attitudes towards homosexuality, but I don’t believe I “dump all Christians into the homophobic category.” In fact, in the paragraphs about religious belief being one of the potential causes of homophobia (amongst others), I mention several other religions as well, all of whom make a part of their platform the immorality of homosexuality. The religions…not necessarily all people in those religions (thank God!).

      I don’t personally believe “all Christians” (or anyone) are any ONE thing, including homophobic. I know and am close friends to many that are not. But it is also an unfortunate truth that the Bible (as well as other religious tomes) is often cited as proof and justification of anti-gay belief and action; I get it quoted to me on a regular basis in comments, emails, etc., in response to this piece and other things I’ve written. I was recently part of an online discussion of this topic with a Christian group who felt the tide was going against their “anti-gay marriage efforts” and the push-back I received from some very strong-minded Christians who seemed to think I was hell-bent (literally) for my open-minded stance was pretty intense. But even with that, there were others in their group whose hearts were far more open and loving, who felt as resistant to that kind of thinking as I do, as clearly you do.

      It is my experience with almost any of the more traditional religions that there are always those who step out of the stereotypes and the by-the-book thinking to form their own version of their belief; to take the higher-toned, more loving messages to heart and discard those that are less so. It seems you and your family have achieved that balance and I truly commend you. I know many others who have as well, who disagree with the intolerant stance of their religion on this subject (and others) but still hold dear the truer, more loving tenets. It’s important that such wise and thoughtful interpretation happens so that the good of belief doesn’t get lost in the more human, less loving side-bars of judgment and discrimination.

      So, yep, you sound pretty cool to me! On many levels, including how you’re dealing with the tug and pull process of loving and letting go of your kids!

      Thank you again for your thoughtful words. LDW

      Like

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