Why We’re Still Fighting, 22 Years After DOMA

By Masen Davis • September 21, 2018 • 2:07 pm

What a difference 22 years makes.  On this day in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was signed into law. The discriminatory law said that our federal  government would not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, and would not allow same-sex couples to collect important federal benefits. The measure’s passage sent the profound message to LGBTQ people that our government didn’t see us as worthy of full equality under the law. DOMA, of course, was overturned by the Supreme Court in a historic 2013 ruling – but as we know all too well, our fight didn’t end with the freedom to marry. LGBTQ Americans continue to face monumental challenges in states across the country – and, in recent years, once again at the federal level. We fight day after day for our dignity and our equality – working in small communities to build support for measures that ensure LGBTQ people are treated fairly; at the state level to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination laws; and at the federal level to hold the line on the progress we’ve made in recent years. Today’s anniversary of DOMA is a potent reminder that progress is neither continuous nor constant, and cannot be taken for granted.

Thanks to the stories of love shared by thousands of LGBTQ families, and the hard work of movement activists, public support for marriage equality has grown dramatically in the past decade. In a recent poll, Pew Research Center found that Americans’ support for marriage equality has nearly doubled, with 62 percent of Americans believing gays and lesbians should be able to marry legally. Younger Americans are overwhelmingly supportive as well:  A whopping 74 percent of Millennials and 65 percent of Generation Xers have polled in support of marriage equality.

While these numbers show a swell in support for the freedom to marry, a steady and dangerous opposition has made it their mission to undermine marriage equality,  deem LGBTQ households as less than equal, and threaten legal protections for LGBTQ Americans. Since DOMA was repealed, anti-LGBTQ extremists have introduced an onslaught of what they’re calling “child welfare” bills allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to refuse adoptions to same-sex couples. Just this year, two of those bills became law in Oklahoma and Kansas, denying children the opportunity to be placed in loving homes merely because their would-be parents are LGBTQ. Unfortunately, these anti-LGBTQ child welfarebills are just one example of the legislative attacks facing our community. This year, 85 hostile bills, aimed at diminishing the rights of transgender Americans and legalizing discrimination in the name of religion were introduced in 27 states.

We have learned a lot since DOMA was signed into law 22 years ago. Together, we have made progress many of us would not have dreamed of at the time – from the freedom to marry to to unprecedented transgender visibility. We are fortunate to live in a time when most Americans support  equality for LGBTQ people. Yet while we enjoy the fruits of our progress, our opposition becomes more motivated and many LGBTQ people continue to suffer from bias, discrimination, and violence in their communities. . That’s why the need for full nondiscrimination protections for every LGBTQ American could not be more important. We live in a patchwork of laws where an LGBTQ person driving across the country could zig in and out of jurisdictions where they are protected under the law. LGBTQ people might be protected from employment discrimination in one town and not in a neighboring one. They may face legal housing discrimination in one state, but head across that state’s border and they may be protected. We should all agree that when living in the United States, every American deserves full and equal protection under the law. This is our next fight and one that I’m asking you to be a part of. By joining with Freedom for All Americans, you have a chance to play a part in our next chapter of progress.


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