Why Marriage Equality Matters

Dissolving Our Legal Contracts Would Unravel Another Civil Right

Credit: Pat Byrnes, PoliticalCartoons.com

With the recent concurring opinion by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on abortion, in which he opined that same-sex marriage should be undone as a national civil right, members of my LGBT community have been greatly concerned that those against gay and lesbian marriages will indeed move on to dismantling marriage equality next.

Right now gay and lesbian couples can get married in every state and territory in the United States without fear of state governments blocking our rites. We are entitled like every opposite sex couple to the responsibilities and benefits, both statewide and federally, and have enjoyed these rights since the Supreme Court made it so.

But now, less than a decade later, Thomas and others, including sitting senators and representatives, are wailing that “states rights” should be deciding our fate. But unlike a decade ago, this is not some theoretical discussion about whether lesbian and gay couples are equally valid and deserving as straight couples.

Keith and Neil Coffman-Grey on their wedding day in 1997 | Photo by Randy Encinas

Twenty-five years ago, in April 1997, my husband Keith Coffman-Grey and I were wed at Val Verde Estate in Montecito. We had travelled across California to speak out about the importance of legalizing our couples through, at the time, domestic partnerships and eventually, as we had very little rights — even to visit our partners in the hospital if they were dying from AIDS complications.

We worked with the City and County of Santa Barbara to create domestic partner registries, despite local anti-ay activists trying their best to get our local government officials to reject even this simple validation of our relationships.

We were the first couple to be listed in both the Ventura County Star and the Santa Barbara News-Press for our engagement and marriage announcement, although they would not call our marriage a marriage but a “commitment.” And when these announcements ran, local bigots flooded the editors with their bile. One church even ran a full-page ad with death threats against us and the editor of the Star.

This year we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary, with love in our hearts and little expectation that this would also be the year that the Supreme Court would open the possibility that our marriage might be legally dissolved because some on that court do not approve of our loving relationship and think us inferior and unequal to their own. This is particularly audacious of Justice Thomas, whose own interracial marriage, held to the privacy standard he does not deem same-sex couples worthy, would arguably also be invalidated based upon his legal theory.

Undoing our marriages — dissolving our legal contracts — would, to put it mildly, be unraveling yet another civil right granted by the Constitution’s privacy clause. It would be abrogating the good faith that LGBT people put in our federal institutions when they said, yes, all people deserve marriage equality regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

But much more grievously, it would devastate, even ruin, our lives. The unraveling of the legality of our marriages would destroy our financial well-being, our families including children, and our mental wellness. It would open our couples and families up to discrimination, hate crimes, and public exclusion. It would deny our couples health care and survivorship benefits that are so essential to our financial livelihood, particularly in later years.

And it would embolden those who hate us to bully our youth, deny services to our community, attack our institutions, and claim their superiority over our citizens. In short, it would roll back every gain made to the pre-Stonewall era, when we were ostracized and declared morally and mentally unfit.

We cannot go back. We must not go back.

Neil Coffman-Grey is an LGBT and AIDS activist.

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