Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decisions on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were hailed as landmark moments for LGBT Americans. For many, these decisions are a cathartic conclusion to a decades-long struggle for equality. For others, including some within the LGBT community, the decisions represent a worrisome turn of events.
When the Supreme Court held hearings on Proposition 8 and DOMA earlier this year, Facebook was flooded with a Valentine-colored remix of the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) classic logo, a yellow equal sign on a blue background. But 'greater than' symbols cropped up too, signifying dissent against gay marriage.
The 'greater than' symbol is the Against Equality logo, a parody of HRC's. Though the name would seem to belong to a more conservative organization, Against Equality is actually a radical queer editorial collective. The group publishes writing on three major issues they view as most threatening to LGBT people today: marriage, military, and the prison-industrial complex.
"We do not believe that the queer community, by and large, is for gay marriage," says Yasmin Nair, a co-founder of Against Equality. "We need to stop thinking that gay marriage is the magic pill that will solve all our problems. We're facing a depletion of basic resources in terms of health, education, and infrastructure."
Although it's a bold statement, recent findings by the Pew Research Center show that Nair may be right. The sweeping study found that, although most LGBT Americans believe same-sex couples should have the right to marry, a significant minority — 39 percent — think the debate over marriage equality is distracting from other problems facing the queer community. The study also revealed that LGBT couples expressed less interest in getting married than straight couples.
Against Equality's main concern is that same-sex marriage opens a new door for the economic exploitation of queer individuals. "Only people who enter into a particular contractual relationship are entitled to benefits like health-care," says Nair. "Marriage is not only not a magic pill, it's going to make lives worse. In places like Connecticut, you can no longer [only] be in a domestic partnership or civil union [in order for your partner to receive health-care]. If that's not an example of the state coercing you into marriage, I don't know what is."
But Against Equality's worries also mirror those expressed in the Pew study — that the overturning of Prop. 8 and DOMA will placate the community from advocating in other issues.
Of the Supreme Court's rulings, Nair says, "It's both a step back and a step forward. It's going to lead to a massive depletion of resources from other issues. In Canada, once they got marriage, the gay activists left the table. A lot of people working on sex worker issues were left scrambling for resources."
Further, many queer couples may not even reap the tax benefits of marriage, according to Nair. Edith Windsor, the woman at the center of the DOMA case, was required to pay upwards of $363,000 in taxes on her wife's multi-million dollar estate — taxes she would not have been required to pay if the couple's marriage was federally recognized. Nair explains, "Ordinary gays and lesbians, who will never see $400,000 in their lifetimes, have become convinced this [ruling] will affect them. But they don't have estates. It's not about love, it's not about commitment, it is about money. Period."
For many, however, the right to wed has more to do with romance than cash. When most newly engaged couples imagine their wedding day, they imagine it as a singular event — one ceremony that will bind them together, forever.
For LGBT couples like Brad Stauffer and John Vieira, the dream has been different. The pair has celebrated three weddings over the past decade, and, now that the Supreme Court has issued a ruling that invalidates Prop. 8, California's ban on gay marriage, they may soon be newlyweds again.
California's roller coaster with marriage equality began in 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom began flouting the law by allowing gay couples to marry in San Francisco. But Stauffer and Vieira's journey began long before that, in the now-defunct gay country-western bar The Rawhide in SoMa, where they met on Sept. 7, 1992. They were paired up for a circle dance, exchanged pleasantries, and as Stauffer puts it, "by the time we circled back to each other, we were in love."
"We danced the rest of the evening together," he says, "and we've been together ever since."
Ten years after their first meeting, the couple decided to throw themselves a "blessing ceremony" to formally and publicly acknowledge their lifetime commitment. At the time, Stauffer explains, "We were not expecting to ever be able to marry." But two years later, Newsom gave them and other couples the opportunity to do just that. Stauffer and Vieira, then living in L.A., flew to San Francisco and were legally married for the first time under the dome of City Hall — only one day before the California Supreme Court put a stop to Newsom's weddings.
Since then, gay marriage in California has been in a state of ever-changing legal limbo. The state Supreme Court ruled that Newsom's marriages be annulled in the fall of 2004. "Our marriage was taken away," Stauffer says.
The couple's next chance at matrimony came four years later, in June 2008, when the court reversed itself, ruling that LGBT couples could, in fact, marry. Wary that the opportunity wouldn't last, Stauffer and Vieira rushed to be married yet again, this time in West Hollywood Park, which was used to facilitate the overflow of wedding ceremonies. Their instincts were right — Prop. 8 passed five months later, in November, banning gay marriage in California. This time, however, weddings that took place before the ban were not annulled.
Despite Nair's assertion that the DOMA ruling won't effect average gays and lesbians, Stauffer says taxes are problematic for himself and his husband. Before the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA, he explains that having a recognized marriage at the state level but not the federal level makes for a difficult tax season.
As the controversial law has inched its way through the courts, engaged LGBT couples who were not married between June and November of 2008 have had to put their wedding plans on hold. Although their current marriage remains recognized by California law, Stauffer and Vieira were still anxious for the U.S. Supreme Court's June 26 ruling on Prop. 8.
With so many weddings in their past — and perhaps, in their future — when do they celebrate their anniversary? From the day they met, Sept. 7, 1992, 21 years ago.
Now that Prop. 8 is overturned, Stauffer says, "We would probably marry again. I think we'd keep getting married until it stuck forever."