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DOMA overturned: A new mindset on love

We are in the car taking our son, Jasper, to sleep-away camp when we hear the news that DOMA has been overturned.

We cheer. Jasper leans forward, curious to know what’s going on, and we explain.

“But I thought gay marriage was already legal?” he asks, confused. We make an attempt to explain the Defense of Marriage Act.

There is a long pause while he is thinking about this and my spouse, Mary, is on her phone looking for details.

“Isn’t Hillary Clinton a Democrat?” he asks, and now I’m confused, but I confirm Hillary’s political party. “So why is she married to a Republican?” And when I tell him Bill Clinton is a Democrat he is flabbergasted. “Why would he make something up like that then?” he says giving voice to the question many have had over the life of DOMA.

“It was a mistake,” I tell him. “And now it’s been fixed,” but I can see him in the rearview mirror shaking his head, still looking puzzled.

Mary is now on the Huffington Post site and begins to read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words: “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

“I am getting chills,” I say from the driver’s seat. Jasper leans forward again.

“Why are you getting chills?” he asks and I realize how much has changed in a generation. This is not remarkable to him.

While pulling beets out of the ground, I tell my sounding board, Ziggy, this story. She tips her head back to look at the puffy summer sky. “I guess that’s the world our children have come to expect.”

I decide to check in with other young people and investigate their reaction to the decision. Emma Halper, a rising senior at Northampton High School, whose mom and dad both live in Florence, says simply, “It’s about time.” She goes on to articulately summarize what is painfully evident to her, which is that state-by-state marriage rights for all was not enough and that the decision to recognize gay marriage nationally took too long.

Continuing my research with the younger generation, I talk to Claire Babbott Bryan and her friend Willa Smith-Allen, both rising eighth-graders from Northampton, each with two moms. They are getting ready to walk to the YMCA and are bouncing around Claire’s living room.

I ask them if the decision changes anything for their families.

“I think it makes a big difference because before the country didn’t recognize my moms as a married couple, only Massachusetts did,” says Willa.

Claire adds, “It changes for me because now I know that the government is welcoming of my family, which is very important to me.”

“I think that most people had recognized that love is love no matter who it’s between, but the people who hadn’t recognized that are starting to now instead of just looking at what the Bible is saying,” Claire says. “I think society was already changing — it’s just the law that is catching up.”

In her closing words, Claire has landed in the heart of the issue for Billy Gilbert, 69, of Plainfield.

“I was brought up Methodist, sang in the choir. Now I haven’t read the whole Bible but I don’t think HE likes it,” Gilbert tells me when I ask him his thoughts on gay marriage.

* * *

I am at the Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington on my way to a painting class when I chat with Gilbert. Earlier I had tried to strike up a conversation with three other gentlemen, wondering how their thoughts on the end of DOMA looked compared to the young people.

All of the men were over 70 with grandchildren, and all of them had lived in Cummington their whole lives, one of them in the same house. I had told them I was working on a column about DOMA and invited them to comment. The gregarious one-upmanship withered and all three shifted in their chairs, one looking into his empty coffee cup, one inspecting his suspenders and the third looking off behind me at the deli counter.

“Hey listen,” the most extroverted of them said, breaking a long silence. “Live and let live. We have some of them around here, mostly ladies, the gays, and as long as they keep it to themselves…”

He looked to the other men, perhaps hoping they would interject. One rubbed the whiskers on his chin. The other shook his head as if to say, “I’m not getting involved in this.”

I had returned to my writing when Billy Gilbert joined them and they steered him my way.

* * *

Billy, with his long hair and equally long beard, has a lot to say on the topic. “The Bible says it’s wrong for a woman and woman or man and man to be together,” he tells me. I ask him if it’s possible that perhaps that is an old idea and that society is now changing its mind. “To me it’s morally wrong. That’s my belief,” he says firmly.

It is indisputable that despite the legal change, it will take time for people to alter their thinking. But it is also indisputable that the change has begun. The next generation of thinkers represent an evolutionary shift, as though we have grown lungs to breathe on land or longer necks to reach the leaves.

On a recent road trip our family listens to a lecture on black holes. It turns out that their gravity is so powerful that once you cross what they call the “event horizon” of the black hole you are drawn inexorably into its gravitational arena to stay there forever. It’s considered the point of no return.

It occurs to me that when the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act we entered the event horizon as a society, a place where we will move into a new mindset about love. Now those on the fence about gay marriage will be working against the gravitational pull of society instead of the opposite. Crossing the event horizon as a culture means now we will live here for good.

Writer Elizabeth Slade lives in Leeds with her spouse and three children. She can be reached at egslade@newview.com.co.

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