Obama v Doma: how gay Americans marched towards equality

From Joe Bidens unplanned endorsement to a White House lit by the rainbow flag, LGBTQ Americans lived through three extraordinary years

On 6 May 2012, Joe Biden went on Meet the Press to endorse marriage equality and credited an NBC sitcom for his decision: I think Will and Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far.


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    Three days later, in the middle of his re-election campaign, Barack Obama followed the lead of his vice-president. In 1996, Bill Clinton had signed the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) in the middle of the night because he thought that was necessary to ensure his re-election. Now a new Democratic president had embraced the push for equality as a political plus, especially with the younger voters who were so important to his success.

    Obama said that even the Republican college students he had met were very clear about sexual orientation: They believe in equality. He also suggested the benefits of a presidential unit that included a brilliant wife and two precocious children. His daughters, Malia and Sasha, had friends who were the children of same-sex couples, and it had never occurred to them that their friends parents would be treated differently.

    It doesnt make sense to them, Obama said, adding: Thats the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.

    The tidal wave of change continued. On 6 June, barely a month after the presidents announcement, Judge Barbara Jones of the southern district of New York ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, whose case against Doma focused on the estate taxes she was forced to pay after the death of her wife, Thea Spyer, a burden a straight widow would have avoided. The judge found that Doma was unconstitutional under the due process guarantees of the fifth amendment and ordered the federal government to issue Windsor a tax refund, including interest. Jones was the fifth federal judge to find the law unconstitutional.

    The political wisdom of Obamas position was confirmed in November when he was re-elected with 332 electoral votes and 51.1% of the popular vote. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved marriage equality initiatives and Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have banned it.

    On 20 January 2013, in his second inaugural address, the president declared: Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.


     
    Edith
    Edith Windsor is mobbed by journalists and supporters following oral arguments at the supreme court in March 2013. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Six months later, Edith Windsor was sitting at her lawyers dining room table, along with the rest of her legal team. The New Yorker reported what happened next. Suddenly news of the supreme courts decision flashed across a computer screen: Doma Is Unconstitutional.

    There were whoops and hollers and then the telephone rang.

    Who am I talking to? Windsor asked.

    The call was coming from Air Force One.


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    Oh! Barack Obama? she exclaimed. Composing herself, she said: I want to thank you. And then she added: I think your coming out for us made such a difference throughout the country.

    As in Romer v Evans in 1996, which held that government cannot legitimately base its decisions on animus toward gay people, and Lawrence v Texas, which made gay sex legal, Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision. For the third time, he catapulted the gay cause forward.

    Back in Manhattan, Windsor was taken on an impromptu victory lap around the island. People burst into tears and shouted: Thank you, Edie! At the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village, Windsors lawyer compared her to Susan B Anthony, or Rosa Parks, or Harvey Milk; James Esseks of the ACLU echoed the earlier words of the attorney Ted Olson, declaring Windsor to have made the country more free and more fair and more equal today. In fact, she has made it more American.

    The Windsor decision was only the first piece of good news. California governor Jerry Brown and the rest of the states officials had declined to defend Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage. At the supreme court, chief justice John Roberts and four of his colleagues decided unelected proponents of the ban did not have standing to appeal a district court victory for two same-sex couples who had sought to marry. That meant the case was not properly before the supreme court.

    Two days later, the ninth circuit court of appeals lifted its stay of the district decision. Hours after that, cheers erupted amid camera flashes as California attorney general Kamala Harris presided at the marriage of Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier at San Franciscos city hall. They were one of the couples who had sued to prevent Proposition 8 from taking effect.

    Article break

    Two years later, our decades-long battle for justice reached a thundering climax.

    Barack and Michelle Obama were the first great black leaders to treat the gay movement with the full respect earned by the civil rights movement. Their willingness to link the two movements had a special power. The inspiration we drew from the courage and the blood and the joyfulness of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Martin Luther King Jr had made the gay movement possible.

    Thus it felt uncannily right that the arc of history had bent so dramatically toward liberty and justice for all during Obamas presidency. And it made a kind of cosmic sense that a black man was president on 27 June 2015, a crescendo of a day in American history a day of bottomless sorrow, a day of unparalleled joy.

    In the early afternoon, the president and first lady arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, to pay homage to the victims of another hideous mass shooting. There they joined 6,000 other citizens inside a downtown sports arena to celebrate the lives of the Rev Clementa C Pinckney and eight other African American parishioners shot and killed by a racist murderer during a service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.

    The emotional pinnacle came at the end of the four-hour service, when Obama reached the lectern. This was one of the magnificent moments of his presidency.

    Barack Obama stood before a large black gospel choir, flanked by the purple robes of African Methodist Episcopal pastors. He said he had felt an open heart after learning about the catastrophe, and that, more than anything, was what was needed now, along with a reservoir of goodness.

    He repeated: That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace. Amazing grace.

    Original Article : HERE ; The Ultimate Survival Food: The Lost Ways

     


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