Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered the “Defense of Marriage Act null and void. Perhaps with DOMA’s death, the “Equality State” will become a “Marriage Equality State,” or at least a state that recognizes same-sex civil unions.
Today, opposite-sex couples enjoy 1,138 special federal marriage rights, including joint tax filing, shared property rights, joint parental rights, the power to make difficult end-of-life decisions for their partners, and so much more. Now “the feds” can no longer use DOMA to deny any of these rights to same-sex couples in states that recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.
Why did the Court kill DOMA? Simple. It’s because so many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans are now “out of the closet,” never to return.
So, DOMA is dead. And DOMA was dumb. Can anyone explain to Patricia and me how our 32-year marriage, and our four-generation Wyoming family, is in any way threatened by recognition of the right of same-sex couples to marry? No, we don’t need “the feds” to defend our marriage from non-existent threats.
In 2000, no state recognized same-sex marriage. Now, 13 states do. Others will follow, and follow faster now that DOMA is dead.
Oh, and in the U.S. armed forces, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is dead. Good riddance. Thank you, President Barack Obama.
I joined the University of Wyoming faculty a quarter-century ago. Then, on campus, I sometimes observed couples holding hands, in tender embrace, and kissing. And so it is today. But this has changed: Now, some of those loving couples are same-sex, publicly expressing affection. (But, young people, no matter what your sexual orientation, please do not make too much of a spectacle of yourselves, especially in my classes.)
Why is sexual orientation such a big deal in Wyoming? In terms of population, we are America’s most insignificant state. At the same time, we present a high LGBT profile. Tragically, Wyoming’s LGBT notoriety began here in Laramie in 1998 with the brutal murder of a Casper native, UW student Matthew Shepard. Since then, Mary Cheney became one of America’s most famous married lesbian mothers. And even if the box office smash was filmed in the Canadian Rockies, Annie Proulx’s story of the Brokeback Mountain boys is a Wyoming story. For some, the “Cowboy State” became the “Gay Cowboy State.”
But let us try to be honest and accurate. If cowboys and cowgirls are like Americans in other walks of life, the Cowboy State is probably 95 percent straight and 5 percent gay. Most important, together we are one, enriching one another’s lives. 100 percent Wyoming.
Today, like so many top universities nationwide, UW grants domestic partnership benefits to unmarried couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Moreover, if any UW student, staff or faculty threatens other members of the campus community on the basis of sexual orientation, they may be dismissed from the university. At UW, some sorts of intolerance are simply not tolerated.
Some people argue that the foundation of civilization is “one man-one woman” marriage. Not so. Myriad civilizations have had many marriage customs. Just one example: Our Mormon friends here in the American West revere their ancestors who practiced “one man-many women” marriage. Even if most of us disapprove of polygamy, none of us would say that Joseph Smith or Brigham Young were uncivilized. Truth be told, the foundation of civilization is agriculture and I observe that so many of my Mormon friends are very good at agriculture.
Is sexual orientation a matter of choice? No. The Rainbow Resources Center, in the UW Dean of Students Office, puts it this way on their website: “Your sexuality or gender identity is not a choice … it chooses you. It’s OK to be yourself … being LGBT is natural. Being LGBT is not a lifestyle ... it’s a life.”
No, sexual orientation is not a matter of “choice.” My own pubescent experience of a half-century ago was that girls suddenly became so interesting. For the life of me, I can’t recall deliberating over a “lifestyle choice.” Did you?
In fact, sexual orientation is a complex genetic trait, whether hetero-, homo-, bi-, or asexual. It is a complex phenotype, involving genotype, environment, and genotype by environment interactions. Yes, sexual orientation is heritable, and the variability is natural, probably involving many genes and phenomena that we geneticists refer to as penetrance, expressivity, predisposition, concordance, in utero effects and epigenetics. Gender determination is complex as well, accounting for the “T” in LGBT.
Yes, LGBT Americans are a 5 percent minority, but they are known and loved by virtually 100 percent of us who are their friends and families. And LGBT Wyomingites are in no way unnatural, or in any way unworthy of “Equal Rights” as per our state motto.