One woman looks back on her 27-year relationship and what’s really at stake if the Supreme Court takes aim at marriage equality next.
By Elizabeth Barajas-Román
Published in Oprah Daily: July 7, 2022
My wife Magaly and I met on the very first day of freshman year at Oberlin College. I won’t say anything cliché about love at first sight, but there was an undeniable connection between us. And what everyone wrote off as a cute, college romance has blossomed into a profound 27-year relationship and 18-year marriage.
When the Supreme Court dismantled Roe, we knew queer couples like ourselves probably had much to fear—that no one’s rights were safe. What we didn’t expect was just how directly Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion would prove us right. In it, Justice Thomas says that cases that paved the way for gay marriage should be reconsidered. Some pundits will even say that it’s a good thing and that gay marriage should be debated again—that these issues should be part of a democratic process, decided by voters state-by-state.
But I already know what it’s like to live in a world where human rights are bestowed by minority rule. I’ve lived during a time when I had to accept that I would be forced to live a smaller life in order to share it with someone I loved. I know what it’s like to have employers, city officials, banks, hospitals—even my dog’s veterinarian—force me to affirm my relationship in a multitude of taxing, expensive, and humiliating ways only to get a quarter of the respect and rights that straight couples received. The idea that soon our lives could be legally invalidated, both as women and as queer couple, hurts my heart. But the cruelty is the point, isn’t it?
“I know what it’s like to have employers, city officials, banks, hospitals—even my dog’s veterinarian—force me to affirm my relationship in a multitude of taxing, expensive, and humiliating ways only to get a quarter of the respect and rights that straight couples received.“
When I met my wife in 1995, gay marriage wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t even in our realm of possibilities. In fact, for Magaly and I—both of us Latinas—our coming out stories involved hesitation from our families that was deeply layered. Marriage meant something to us and it was a tradition that was deeply rooted in our Latina heritage. Our mothers both said some version of, “You’re already an immigrant’s daughter. You’re already Latina. You already come from a poor family. Why do you want to make things harder on you? You’re never going to have a family. You can never get married. Don’t choose this life.”
When Magaly and I were undergrads and wanted to move off campus, we had to file for the equivalent of a domestic partnership so that our relationship would be recognized by the school. At 19, this was a lot of complex paperwork to navigate, but it was important for us to signify our commitment to each other. After graduation, we moved to Cambridge and had to file for domestic partnership again in order to put our names on our apartment lease as partners, not roommates. When we moved to Boston, the same paperwork was waiting for us yet again.
We even legally changed our last names, both of us hyphenating to reflect both of our original identities and our new ones as spouses. In 1999, this was the only legal way we could convey partnership, even if only symbolically.
And that’s the thing about marriage equality. It’s not just the legality of it that matters. It’s the little things that help you build your life together, like holding hands in public, saying “my wife,” or checking into a hotel and not having to explain why you don’t need a room with two beds. These are things that straight married couples don’t have to think about.
We lucked out that Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we moved after college in 2004, was the first city in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Magaly and I rushed to City Hall to make it official. The ruling was so unexpected that everyone we knew was in a hurry to get a marriage license out of fear the ruling might be quickly reversed. I remember how it felt on the steps of City Hall where a crowd gathered to support us. Some handed out bouquets of fresh lilac and spring flowers as we joined 262 other couples who waited to enter the building. At 12:01 a.m. on May 17th the doors opened to a municipal celebration. There was white organza on the wooden staircases, a wedding cake in the lobby, sparkling cider near the clerk’s office and the Cambridge Community Chorus sang from the council chambers. We were joyful about finally being able to make that commitment, in writing, to each other—we called our family to tell them the news. We held hands. Yet, even with our joy, there was also this feeling that the ground could crumble underneath us at any time.
“It is important for people who have never had their bodily autonomy or intimate relationships up for public debate and approval, listen to those who have. This is not a Twitter argument or an academic exercise. This is the fight of our lives. This is about fairness and dignity.“
After same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide with the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision in 2015—which just so happened to coincide with our 20th anniversary—we felt like we were finally on solid ground. We even held a long-delayed wedding party and read pieces of the Court’s decision in our vows.
“In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death…They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
We were recognized, we were seen, we were valued—not just by each other, now, but by our society, our laws.
It is important for people who have never had their bodily autonomy or intimate relationships up for public debate and approval, listen to those who have. This is not a Twitter argument or an academic exercise. This is the fight of our lives. This is about fairness and dignity.
These days, I often think of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” My entire life I interpreted those words to mean that justice was a law of nature, like gravity, its progress slow, sometimes maddeningly so, but still always arcing for movement toward the good. Today, however, I realize the constant is not the arc itself, but the people who ensure it takes the shape of fairness, of equality, of love. The constant is us.