The day 'equal' became real

The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by the US Supreme Court means that my marriage that was officiated in New York last year is now equal to all heterosexual marriages in the US. Whatever opposite-sex married couples have enjoyed as federal protections and benefits now applies to my marriage without exception.

I was glued to theSCOTUS Blog's live feed all morning when I read the decision. I read it again in the New York Times. For good measure, I switched over to conservative news websites because they would be the least likely to jump the gun in reporting it. As soon as I confirmed it, I stepped away from my workstation and looked out the window, unable to breathe. Tears leaked from my decades-cynical eyes.  

Impossible becomes real

For most LGBTs, this was a day we thought would never come. Since our first realization that we were different from everyone else, we came to terms with the fact that our relationships, our love stories, and their resulting unions would never be on paper. Our great romances would likely remain rumors told behind our backs (or at our funerals) by relatives who would revel in the gossip. 

Our relationships remained gossip because they weren't allowed to be anything else. Our partners, equal in value to your own spouses, have repeatedly been relegated and treated as our friends. Some of our parents and siblings have felt it was okay to take us from our partners during sickness and death because they had the legal right that our partners did not. Our joint assets, families, children and homes were so easily invalidated because there was nothing that tied us to each other by law.

Relatives have taken over our loved ones' finances because to the rest of the world, our relationships did not hold water. Because of religious beliefs and personal tastes, it seemed pretty logical for others to deny us our fundamental right to marriage and family just because we didn't fit into what they felt was a traditional picture of love. 

We learned to accept this because we knew the odds were against us. Entire religions and established organizations fought hard so our relationships would not be recognized. We learned to not need marriage because it didn't want us. We decided that the invalidation of our lives would only make us more determined to live and love without anyone's approval. It made us stronger, it made us work harder for our families and make better provisions for our loved ones.

Some of us created our own protections to defend ourselves should anyone try to take away our life's work. Others counted on the kindness of others, and even on luck. We didn't want to rely on the possibility that we would finally have equal rights, because we've been denied these rights all our lives.  

One story among many

I fell in love with my partner during her brief visit to Manila in 2002. Within a month of her return to New York, I dropped my life to join her and to start a life of unknowns in the US. If we were a straight couple, I could have become a permanent resident by way of marriage to a US citizen within 3 months. But because we were both women, we couldn't marry, and the law treated us as if we were no more than roommates.

My work-sponsored visa took about 10 years to turn into a green card via unforgiving jobs I didn't have a choice but to keep. The process cost me almost US$20,000 in total government and lawyers' fees, and innumerable heartache and worry. If one of us were a man, I'd have achieved permanent residency in a few months for a few hundred bucks.

Since then we've rented homes, bought and sold property, and gone on with our lives as unrelated housemates in the eyes of the law. We learned to live with the reality that the love and life we worked hard for daily did not exist to a government to which we paid almost a third of our income in taxes and social security payments.

We couldn't get each other's health coverage, and we lived in constant fear that one of us would fall ill or die and the other would be left unable to make medical decisions on our behalf or claim our joint assets because we were "not related," even if in reality we were more "married" than most people we knew.

When same-sex marriage became legal in New York in 2011, at least in our home state we felt visible and recognized. We married last year in City Hall on a perfect day with a few of our closest friends. The life I've shared with my wife over the past 11 years has been my biggest achievement and source of pride and happiness. It was ridiculous and difficult to think that to the rest of the country, we still did not exist. Until now.

I THEE WED. The US Supreme Court rules that same-sex-marriage couples are equal to heterosexual-marriage-couples. Photo by Danny Chong

I THEE WED. The US Supreme Court rules that same-sex-marriage couples are equal to heterosexual-marriage-couples.

Photo by Danny Chong

A breakthrough

Now that federal recognition of same-sex marriage has been realized, couples like us no longer have to go through as many hurdles to be together. We can safely own property and adopt children as if we were any other couple. We can get each other's work benefits and pensions, and we won't be taxed to inherit our joint property should one of us die. We are now each other's next of kin. It is now illegal to demand that one of us has to be a man to get any of the 1,138 benefits available to any other married couple. It is now against the law to qualify and exclude our love.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of DOMA's repeal is that the acceptance of same-sex couples has been formally been signed into national law. It is a law that does not care about the bigoted and homophobic statements thrown at gay people daily, and does not consider the religious and personal sentiments of anyone outside each marriage.

When the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, it protected all same-sex marriages the same way it protected opposite-sex marriages — it did not care about anyone's feeling of disgust for, and invalidation of, our families and lives.

Hillary Clinton might have put best what a law does during a speech to the United Nations on LGBT rights: “...progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate."

The legalization of same-sex marriages is not a magic bullet that will ensure my happiness and the stability of my relationship. We could divorce and we could fall out of love, just like you could, too. We probably will have the same chances for infidelity, incompatibility, and failure as everyone else. It doesn't change anything for LGBTs except that now, for the first time in history, same-sex marriages have the same chances and protections as any heterosexual marriage.

After the Supreme Court decision, the law has declared that I am finally just like you. My love is the same as yours. Not different, not special, but just equal to you.

Did that hurt? Was our love so great that it had to be denied for so long? And was equality really too much to ask? 

This is the best pride month ever. Happy Pride! - Rappler.com

 

Shakira Andrea Sison currently works in the  financial industry while dabbling in several unrelated projects and interests. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shakira Sison

Shakira Andrea Sison is a two-time Palanca-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours writing stories in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002....

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