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.


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.


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.


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

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