By Michael Toumayan
FLArmenians Guest Contributor
In a landmark ruling for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights, the Supreme Court of the United States on Wednesday struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law signed by then President Bill Clinton blocking federal recognition of same-sex marriages. In a separate case, the court ruled that it could not take up a challenge to Proposition 8, the California law that banned same-sex marriage in that state. That decision means that marriage equality will once again be legal in California.
This is a watershed moment in the fight for equality with the Supreme Court delivering justice to millions of Americans and to the thousands of LGBT Armenian-Americans who have been denied their rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Yet it is increasingly clear that we now have two Americas – one where our relationships are recognized and we are protected from discrimination in 13 States and the District of Columbia, and another that has yet to feel the effects of our progress and LGBT people remain second-class citizens, including in the State of Florida.
Sadly, we find many LGBT Armenian-Americans living under this same pretext for far too long – in an America that celebrates and protects who we are as Armenians and the other in our community centers and churches that marginalize and stigmatize LGBT Armenians for whom they love. No one should choose between who they are and whom they love.
I recognize that there are deeply held views on this issue and deeply fierce opposition by the Armenian Church hierarchy. But we cannot pretend to be a nation seeking restorative justice and recognition of our painful history and add the word “but” if we are truly genuine in our collective quest for justice for all.
This is a debate about equal rights under the law. It is about freedom from discrimination and stigmatization the way we were once discriminated and stigmatized as Christians in the Ottoman Empire. It is about the legal protections and responsibilities, and more than 1,100 rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage that, prior to the DOMA ruling, were denied to same-sex Armenian American couples. It is also about real people: your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and neighbors. And finally, it is about witnessing and reflecting the love and commitment between two people.
Given our 1,700 years of Christian heritage, I’d like to sum up the whole law in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:15.
For if truly we, as the Armenian nation, are on a quest to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice for all, then surely we must stand on the right side of history by resisting all forms of bigotry and dedicating ourselves to the advancement of social justice and human dignity of both the living and the deceased.
And if truly we belong to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ through the One, Holy, Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic Church, then surely we are commanded to love, treat with respect and defend our LGBT Armenian sisters and brothers and any other marginalized groups both in the U.S. and in our beloved Hairenik (fatherland), no matter what your Biblical conviction is on homosexuality. This we know as absolute: Christ’s ministry was inclusive and he said that if we commit hate in our hearts we have committed murder – thus, we should take discrimination, hate-talk and the bullying of any marginalized group very seriously. If our tragic history hasn’t taught us anything, then I do not know what will. To learn more specifics on how the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 might affect you, please visit www.hrc.org/SCOTUS.
Michael Toumayan is a program assistant at the Human Rights Campaign and an independent political commentator on the Caucasus and Middle East. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, he holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution and mediation from Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.