Opinion: Celebrating pride for our family

By JEAN LEWANDOWSKI

Published: 06-21-2023 6:00 AM

Jean Lewandowski is a retired special needs teacher. She lives in Nashua.

‘This…will be the mightiest day in the history of our lives, the holiest, & the most generous toward us both – for it makes of two fractional lives a whole; it gives to two purposeless lives a work, & doubles the strength of each whereby to perform it; it gives to two questioning natures a reason for living, & something to live for; it will give a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, a new mystery to life.” — Letter from Mark Twain to his fiance, Olivia.

Our daughter and her fiancé chose this passage to be read at their wedding in 2008 after Massachusetts ruled same-sex marriages must be legally recognized. It was definitely the mightiest day, not just for them, but for my husband and me, our daughter-in-law’s parents and grandparents, and all the aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends who came from across the country and beyond to celebrate the gladness, beauty, and mystery of marriage. It made family of us all.

As members of the LGBTQ+ community by marriage, our understanding of the struggle for justice keeps deepening. In 2012, we were giddy new grandparents meeting in a church basement near our home in northern Minnesota to discuss a state ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriages and de-legitimize families like ours. Challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were making their way through federal courts, and then, as now, the GOP understood the power of fear to energize their voting base. They waged a national campaign to demonize and scapegoat our community and codify discrimination at the state level.

DOMA both denied federal recognition of same-sex marriage and allowed states to enact laws to reject marriage contracts from other states. There were over 1,000 discriminatory ramifications of DOMA, including higher tax rates and denial of spousal employment benefits, but the worst was a provision denying any legal relationship between spouses or between the non-biological parent and her children. This meant our daughter-in-law, whose name is on our grandchildren’s birth certificates and who helped with their birth, shares all the joys and trials of parenthood, and legally adopted both children, would not be recognized as their parent if this state initiative had passed. She wouldn’t even have the right to visit our daughter in a hospital if something happened to her in Minnesota. Then, as now, the GOP peddled this cruelty as “family values.” Thanks to the courage and devotion of organizers around Minnesota, that initiative was defeated.

A year later, 17 years after DOMA was enacted, the Supreme Court overturned it. On June 26, 2013, the majority ruled in the Obergefell v. Kasich decision, “The Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group... DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code…. DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal [under federal law].”

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We all cried for joy that day.

Sadly, that “bare…desire to harm a politically unpopular group” is still hard at work, as prejudice and political opportunism again combine forces against the LGBTQ+ community. Echoing the tactics of 2012, nearly 500 discriminatory bills have been introduced this year in 46 of the 50 states (Business Insider). Right-wing, GOP-led legislatures have already adopted laws that restrict speech, assembly, education, health care, and other civil liberties, and hate groups amplify conspiracy theories claiming hospitals, libraries, schools, universities, corporations and government institutions are part of a cabal “grooming” kids to become LGBTQ+.

We take these attacks personally because every one of them impacts the safety and liberty of our family, and because we know they’re politically motivated and based on lies. In truth, it’s impossible to turn anyone gay. Sexual orientation and gender identity are innate, beautifully complex, and completely individual. No one undergoes the expensive, painful process of gender transition to win medals or lurk in bathrooms. The real “gay agenda” is nothing more than the freedom to exercise the rights and responsibilities of living in America: to work, gather in community, raise families, contribute to society, and live in peace and safety.

The conspiracy theories aren’t simply absurd, they’re dangerous. They’re used to enact discriminatory laws and are seen by some as justification to attack those they’re told are predators. A bill to ban the “gay panic defense” was tabled in our New Hampshire state legislature, so attacks against LGBTQ+ people still can be excused based on the aggressor’s homophobia here, and the 7th anniversary this month of the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Florida reminds us how deadly the lies can be.

June 26 marks the 10th anniversary of the overturning of DOMA, so even though there’s much still to be done, we have a lot to celebrate this Pride month. We celebrate because we’re so proud of our family and grateful to all those who have risked everything to pave the way for us. The colorful parades and parties rebuke the lies and reject shame and fear. Those who march are soldiers for love, acceptance, and joy, and their battle flag is the symbol of hope, renewal, and grace, the rainbow.

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