Summer of DOMA

On June 26, I was avoiding media. It is a rare occurrence. Some form of media is always on at our house. However, on June 26, I didn’t care for my usual routine of television, Facebook and Twitter for breakfast. The Supreme Court of the United States was scheduled to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act that morning. I wanted to remain oblivious for as long as possible.  I was ready to hear SCOTUS reiterate that marriage wasn’t for Sarah and me.

Imagine my surprise when SCOTUS did the opposite. The Court declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional. I was flabbergasted. Without Section 3, the federal government could no longer treat a same-sex marriage “as less worthy than the marriage of others,” the Court said. The federal government would now recognize the validity of a marriage between two legally consenting adults of the same sex.

Sarah and I packed our bags and headed to New York City about a month later. We had waited long enough: almost ten years, in fact. Since we never thought DOMA would be gutted, we had exchanged rings privately and unceremoniously. Trinity University had something to do with that. When we moved to San Antonio four years ago, we learned that Trinity grants benefits to same-sex domestic partners and spouses. All we needed was a notarized affidavit. We jokingly called it “our Trinity marriage.” Sarah and I thought it deserved rings, so we ordered them from Amazon. However, we knew that our “Trinity marriage” was not like other marriages. The difference had nothing to do with the strength of our relationship, love or commitment. It was strictly a matter of law. Now SCOTUS had struck down part of that law, among other reasons because its “avowed purpose and practical effect” was to “impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

We chose New York because we had never been there. Besides, we couldn’t get married in Texas anyway. The state’s constitution defines marriage as a heterosexual affair. Since  the Supreme Court’s decision does not invalidate existing state laws, the definition stands. Regardless, our marriage is acknowledged by the federal government, the State of New York, and any other jurisdiction that chooses to recognize it as well. It’s a start.

Throughout this summer of DOMA, I thought often about values and about change. It’s not that I didn’t before. As an educator, I tend to ponder those questions a lot. Indeed, my area of expertise, the media, is part of the system that creates, communicates and reiterates values, or discourse, if you want to get philosophical about it. French philosopher Michel Foucault preferred that term. He argued that power creates discourse, and discourse generates knowledge, regulates behavior and defines normalcy and deviance. DOMA clearly qualifies as a form of discourse. Now SCOTUS has declared Section 3 “invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” Those words are pushing a change in discourse about LGBT individuals.

SCOTUS, we are grateful.

Cynara Medina is a visiting assistant professor in the department of communication.