The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding same-sex marriage is truly transformative for people like me.
If you’re heterosexual, you may not realize the wide-ranging privileges you get as a matter of course — from Social Security payments to military survivor’s benefits to income taxes to hospital visitation rights. I had to pretend to be my late partner’s sister so that I could visit her when she was hospitalized. In our 12 years together, we didn’t want “special” rights. We only wanted to be treated equally under the law.
The plaintiffs who came before the Supreme Court are people whose lives were personally and profoundly adversely impacted by their inability to legally marry.
Take Jim Obergefell and his late partner John Arthur. Arthur was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2011. The couple, which lived in Ohio, got married in Maryland because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in their state. Obergefell became a plaintiff because he wanted his name to be put on his husband’s death certificate. “John and I … wanted respect and dignity for our 20-year relationship, and as he lay dying of ALS, John had the right to know his last official record as a person would be accurate,” Obergefell wrote in an open letter to the White House after the decision.
Being able to legally wed doesn’t mean that same-sex couples will be granted special rights. It means that throughout the land, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples will be able to make regular decisions for themselves and their children. They will no longer need to worry that their marriage in one state may not be recognized in another.
Just 12 years ago, the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws that criminalized consensual, same-sex sexual activity. A little more than a decade later, the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, grants us the right to marry, and the dignity of being treated legally the same as straight couples. “Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court has, as President Obama said, “reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law; that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.”
A solid majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. Both the law and public opinion are on our side. That means a great deal for me and other gay and lesbian Americans across America.
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. Her new collection, “Uppity Blind Girl Poems,” is published by BrickHouse Books. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.