Yesterday's news out of Massachusetts was historic. A federal district court judge ruled that the federal government cannot treat same-sex married couples differently from heterosexual married couples if their state allows both to marry.
This means that marriage is marriage, plain and simple--no marriage with limited benefits for same-sex couples and with full benefits for straight couples. If this decision holds, all couples who marry in states where marriage equality is the law of the land will be eligible for the many supports and protections offered by the federal government--from the right to take leave to care for one's spouse, to the right to inherit without paying burdensome taxes.
As I contemplate this ruling, two thoughts come to mind. First, I am reminded of how lucky we are to have Mary Bonauto, the lead attorney in this case, fighting for us. When the history books of our fight for justice are written, Mary deserves a very prominent role. Director of the civil rights practice for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Bonauto co-led the legal effort in Vermont that led to the first-ever civil unions victory, and spearheaded the challenge to Massachusetts law that led to marriage rights for same-sex couples for the first time in our country's history.
In my years in Massachusetts, I had what I consider the truest honor of working alongside Bonauto and the amazing team at GLAD. There's no one I'd rather join in battle--she is brilliant and relentless, and exudes integrity.
When I led MassEquality, we supported Bonauto and GLAD in their efforts to identify married same-sex couples from Massachusetts that had been wronged by the federal government--couples that would make good potential plaintiffs. And together we made impassioned, personal appeals to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to take this case on. We knew of the practical and symbolic importance of having the state of Massachusetts file suit, arguing that the federal government was causing it to discriminate against couples it wanted to treat equally.
In May of 2009 on my first trip back to Massachusetts, I ran into Coakley, and she greeted me with a hug with a giant smile. I had a feeling of what might be coming out of the AG's office, and very shortly thereafter, the state filed suit.
Secondly, in this world of lawsuits, judges, appeals and the like, it is so important for us to remember what we are fighting for. Our opponents argue this is all about activist judges. In fact, it's not--it's about real people who are committed to one another and simply want their government to treat them fairly.
It's about couples like Ron and Tom from Indio, who have been together for 57 years and married for one. Both served their country, have taken care of one another in sickness and in health, and finally feel like fuller citizens now that they are legally married.
Even in court, while judges rely upon constitutions for their rulings, it's our personal stories that we share with them that cause them to understand why marriage for same-sex couples is a requirement for equality in our society.
Have you shared your story with everyone who is important to you about why you cherish the freedom to marry? Please do--it's the only way we will prevail. You can share your story with those in your community as well, by joining up and canvassing with Equality California.
Step by step, day by day, we make progress. My fingers are crossed about the Prop 8 case--stay tuned!