Finally, Equal Rights for My Lesbian Mother

A daughter finds hope in the recent DOMA ruling after years of watching her mom fight discrimination.

Helena Andrews and her mother Frances Andrews (Patrick Ryan)
Helena Andrews and her mother Frances Andrews (Patrick Ryan)

(The Root) — When I heard the news that morning, it whacked me in the chest like the kickback of a sudden and screeching stop.

On Wednesday, June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. No longer would a legally married, same-sex couple be denied federal benefits like Social Security, health insurance and retirement. Not recognizing same-sex unions on the federal level, said five justices, was unconstitutional because it violated the “equal protection” promise of this country’s founding document.

I wasn’t entirely surprised by my physical reaction to the news. My mother, Frances, has been an out lesbian since before I could spell the word that would come to define both of our lives. At 61, she’s continued to march in parades and shout on capitol steps for her rights. Rights that I, as a heterosexual woman, was born with. It’s more than a discomfiting feeling — watching your own flesh and blood being discriminated against for most of your life.

So Wednesday morning felt as if, after years of clinging to a plummeting roller coaster, we’d all come to an abrupt stop. But although the ride is far from over — 37 states still don’t recognize same-sex marriage — there’s been a slight reprieve. It’s at times like this you realize that you never knew how fast you’d been going. You’ve gotten so used to the wind of the conservative right whipping noisily against your cheeks and the stomach doing flips every time someone says, “That’s so gay” that when the roller coaster finally pulls into the station, it’s hard to get off. Were my legs always this wobbly? My knees always this shaky?

I called my mom immediately. She recently moved to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands to find herself. After more than a year of static-heavy dropped calls and quickie emails laced with her favorite intentional mistakes (like “Mom/me”), I’d just locked down a date to visit in August. Now we had something tangible to celebrate besides the simple joy of seeing one another after so long .

“Ma, DOMA got struck down this morning!” I shouted, too excited to say hello.

“What?” asked my mother, confused. I could hear her mentally squinting through the phone. I could see her doing that “old lady” routine where she holds the receiver to her ear and then pulls it back to analyze cross-eyed and repeat.

“Mother, the Supreme Court of these United States has ruled that denying you your federal benefits is not friggin’ OK.”

“Well, it’s about damn time.”