When the clock struck 12 on New Year's Eve, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans ushered in a new year filled with celebration of victories, hope for a better tomorrow and anticipation of a ruling from the Supreme Court that will change the face of equality for generations.
Benjamin Franklin said that the greatness in America comes from the strength of our values and the basic fairness of the American people.
This was in full display on Election Day as Americans re-elected President Barack Obama, gave a larger majority to Democrats in the Senate and delivered a net gain of seats for Democrats in the House.
These victories were important to the future of our nation, as the American people spoke in a loud voice for a woman's right to choose, rejected religious social extremism and, for the first time ever, approved marriage equality at the ballot box.
I have often written in this column that the idea of a plebiscite about American's civil liberties is fundamentally offensive to all freedom-loving people. Imagine if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were put to a popular vote in the Southern states. It would have most certainly failed. The same is true when we are asked to vote on our right to marry the person we love; however, it has happened repeatedly. But this time, for the first time, not one but four states approved of marriage equality at the ballot box. Two states, Maryland and Washington, affirmed laws passed by their legislators for same-sex marriage that were a target of religious conservatives attempting to overturn them at the ballot box. Another measure refused to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the state of Minnesota. Most emblematic of quickly shifting public opinion, the state of Maine, which in 2009 banned marriage equality by a popular vote, reversed itself and the people affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry. This is the first time in the history of the United States and indeed the history of the world that this has occurred.
Many will speculate as to this seismic shift in the court of American public opinion. We should celebrate this achievement. However, the truth of the matter is that in 30 states there are constitutional amendments banning marriage equality. In 32 states gays and lesbians have no legal protections in employment and can be fired simply for their sexual orientation regardless of performance. In my opinion, the real battle will be won in the courts of our great nation.
Court after court has found the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. This law negates the legal marriages of same-sex couples performed in states and countries where they are legal. Eight of these cases appeared before the Supreme Court this year, and they selected two cases to review. One case is regarding California's Proposition 8 and the other about DOMA. Edie Windsor, 83 years old, a widow in New York, lost her wife, Thea Spyer, after 42 years together. When Thea died, Edie was hit with a $363,000 tax bill for estate taxes. If Edie had been married to a man, she would have owed zero, but because of her marriage to a woman, she was unfairly penalized. She is now being asked to pay taxes on the money they earned together during their 42-year love affair. Edie sued the federal government and has won at every court she has visited. But now the Supremes must weigh in.
This anticipation has the LGBT community in a state of cautious optimism.
The irony is that DOMA is a violation of state's rights -- a rallying cry for constitutional conservatives. These women were legally married in a marriage recognized by New York state.
President Obama is on board, as are congressional Democrats and three House Republicans. They wisely understand that it is time to repeal this law.
Our Supreme Court has four liberal justices and five conservative ones. There is a swing vote among the conservatives in Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Justice Kennedy has been a major force in advancing equality for LGBT Americans and has voted to uphold equality in several major cases. We can only hope and pray that he continues his march toward equality that has defined his tenure.
There is also hope that other conservatives on the court will vote to overturn DOMA; after all, these guys trumpet "states' rights" and "liberty" at every turn.
As an openly gay man, I am nervous about this.
Six men and three women, all who are presumably heterosexual, will decide whether my marriage to Harry will be valid in the United States.
If they rule in our favor, then we can truly say that America is a land of freedom for all. If they rule against us, then nine people in black robes will have been on the wrong side of history.
As we ring in the New Year, let's hope that our better angels rule the day, that we honor the words of that founding document ... "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
Rudy Molinet is a real estate broker, co-owner of Marquis Properties Realty in Key West and a community and human rights activist. He lives in Old Town with Harry Hoehn, his husband of 19 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.