Can't Stop Here: DOMA, Immigration, Discrimination, and the Struggle Ahead

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I remember the day that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was made into law. It was the fall equinox and it was cold and rainy that day in 1996. I was 15 years old. I was a part of a queer youth group in the DC area called SMYAL (Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League). We had been encouraged to attend a press conference announcing the anticipated passage of the bill. Honestly I don’t remember many of the details of that day. But I have a distinct memory of the feeling in my body during that press conference.

The Supreme Court's recent decision struck down much of DOMA and Proposition 8. Here, clergy and people of faith protest in the wake of Prop. 8's initial passage. Credit: Claire Bohman.

It was sometime in the afternoon. We were standing under a large tree somewhere around the Capitol. There wasn’t a lot of media there other than the gay press. Some Senator was giving a really depressing speech about the bill. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act had just failed again a few weeks before. I was a teenager, queer, and living in Virginia in the 1990s. What did I have to look forward to in this life? Congress had just sent a very clear message that my love wasn’t real love and that I wasn’t even worth a job.
The world seemed bleak and overwhelming the day that DOMA passed. I remember looking up at the leaves on the Oak tree as rain from the sky and mixed with the tears on my face. The rain was cold on that dark fall day. I remember feeling a deep chill of hopelessness inside my body as I rode the metro home. I couldn’t imagine what my life was going to look like as an adult in a world that hated me so much.
Last week the Supreme Court, by what seems like divine intervention, struck down much of DOMA and Proposition 8 in one fell swoop. After the racist repeal of the Voting Rights Act earlier last week, I was not feeling hopeful for a positive ruling on DOMA. I received the news from a childhood friend who still lives in Virginia. She and her partner have been waiting for this ruling to figure out the next steps in their lives. The victory is not a full victory because the clause in DOMA making it legal for states to deny marriage rights to same-sex married couples from other states was not challenged or changed. This means that states like Virginia do not need to recognize same-sex marriage.
While this is a loss, much federal recognition around marriage equality has bent towards justice. This ruling has created a new pathway to citizenship for same-sex bi-national couples. This is a big step forward in the fight for just immigration reform but it’s just a step. We still have a long way to go and we must not stop here. We must continue to organize for comprehensive immigration reform for all of those LGBT immigrants who are not partnered. We must continue to organize for all immigrants who are living in the shadows.
And it doesn’t stop with justice for immigrants. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has still not passed, and it is still legal to fire someone for being queer or transgender in all but 16 states. That means that in my home state of Virginia and 33 other states, the livelihood of millions of LGBT people is not protected.
A recent survey of the homeless community in San Francisco identified that over 25 percent of the population living on the streets is LGBT. Children are still kicked out of their homes for being LGBT. Queer kids in the foster care system continue to face discrimination. And thousands of people of color and other minorities have just lost protections around their right to vote.
We have come a long way, and we still have a very long way to go.
But today let us celebrate. Let us savor this moment of victory. Today, so close to the summer solstice when the days are long, dance in the sunshine, my friends. Let it warm your face as you celebrate. Let it fill you with hope and faith that change is possible. May this celebration be nourishment for our bodies, our spirits, and for the larger movement for equality and liberation for all beings.
For tomorrow we will continue the fight. Tomorrow, the struggle for liberation will move forward.
Claire Bohman aka “Chuck” is a priestess and witch in Reclaiming, an herbalist, and a community organizer. She is a Deans Scholar at the Pacific School of Religion and draws on over 15 years of activism and over 20 years of magical practice in Reclaiming and the Unitarian Universalist Pagan tradition.