John M. Becker

One Year Later: Where Were You When DOMA Fell?

Filed By John M. Becker | June 26, 2014 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Decision Day, DOMA, gay marriage, iconic photos, marriage discrimination, marriage equality, memories, Prop 8, Proposition 8, same-sex marriage, SCOTUS, Supreme Court

ap-charles-dharapak.jpgOne year ago today, in two historic decisions, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" in Windsor v. United States and upheld a lower court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, striking down Proposition 8 and bringing marriage equality back to California. In an instant, the world changed forever.

Like many of you, I will never forget that day for as long as I live.

Each day that week, I and hundreds of other marriage equality supporters went to the steps of the Supreme Court, hoping to be there when the rulings were announced. But nothing came on Monday or Tuesday, so we knew that the decisions in the DOMA and Prop. 8 cases would come down on the last day of the term: Wednesday, June 26.

On Tuesday, as I reflected on the magnitude of what was about to take place, I realized that no matter how the Supreme Court ruled the next day, there was only one person I wanted by my side in that historic moment: my beloved husband Michael, with whom I'd been working for marriage equality on the state and national levels for the entire seven years of our own marriage. I asked him if he'd come down to the Court with me, and even though he was nervous about asking for time off at a job he'd just started, he said yes.

On the morning of Decision Day, we grabbed our "Married With Pride" sign -- which we made back in 2008 for two rallies we helped organize in Wisconsin to protest the passage of Proposition 8 -- and headed down to the Supreme Court. I also grabbed my camera, thinking that I'd want to document the occasion.

Just before ten o'clock, a hush came over the massive crowd and the smart phones came out. All of us, demonstrators and reporters alike, now began frantically checking and refreshing SCOTUSblog, which we knew would be the quickest way of finding out what had happened.

Suddenly the news flashed across my screen: Section 3 of DOMA, an unjust law and the source of daily heartbreak and humiliation for same-sex couples across the country, was no more. For a split second, I couldn't speak -- I just gasped, looked up to the sky, and closed my eyes. I didn't even need to speak; Michael knew from the look on my face exactly what had happened.

huffpost_politics_markwilson_gettyimages.jpgBut then I found the words: "DOMA. It's gone. Unconstitutional."

As those words left my lips, the overwhelming magnitude of what was happening washed over me. For the first time in seven years of marriage, our country was saying to us, and thousands of married couples just like us -- I see you. I affirm you. The United States no longer viewed us as strangers, but as spouses.

Michael and I felt amazement and disbelief and gratitude and relief, all at once. We burst into sobs and just held and kissed each other. Everything else fell away in that incredible moment: the crowd, the oppressive summer heat, the crush of reporters and the clicking of cameras. It felt, as Michael would later say, like a second wedding day. (Little did we know then that the DOMA ruling would set off a tsunami of freedom-to-marry court rulings across the country and allow thousands more couples to have their first wedding day!)

The one thing I forgot to do that morning -- the one thing that ended up being furthest from my mind, in fact -- was to take pictures. I never even took my camera out of its case; it sat between my feet the entire time. But as fate would have it, I didn't need to: photographers captured our reaction to the rulings, and soon images of our intimate moments of joy were being shared with people all over the world, in outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, BBC, and CNN. Friends in Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and even as far away as Thailand and China saw our sobbing faces on their phones, televisions, and computer screens. And the next day, photos of us appeared on the front pages of at least 70 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada -- including my hometown newspaper, the Green Bay Press-Gazette -- and inside dozens of others.

It was both surreal and humbling to see those photos, which captured the way so many of us felt on that Decision Day, go viral and become iconic images. Our hope -- then and now -- is that they speak to people and help them find room in their hearts to embrace the freedom to marry. If even one mind is changed about marriage equality, if even one heart is opened as a result of seeing our sweaty, joyful faces, it'll all have been worthwhile.

Some of the photos taken of Michael and me on DOMA/Prop. 8 Decision Day 2013 are after the jump. I hope you'll check them out, and more importantly, that you'll share your own memories of that day in the comments section.

Where were you when the world changed?

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Photo credit: AP / Charles Dharapak

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Photo credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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Photo credit: Pete Marovich / MCT

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Photo credit: Mladen Antonov / Getty Images

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Photo credit: AP / Charles Dharapak

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Screenshot from ABC's "World News Tonight"

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Tagesschau, Germany's top-rated TV news show.

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The New York Times

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The Green Bay Press-Gazette


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