Defense of America

Frontdesk by David Waggoner

July is the month of our nation’s birthday—almost every American knows that. But do they know that more Americans than ever before can now imagelegally wed? As we go to press, the United States Supreme Court has overturned DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which has kept millions of same-sex couples from marrying, or, in my view, enjoying the Constitutional right to happiness that is taken for granted by all straight Americans. And yet, this is the last civil rights issue that hasn’t been completely won.

Even though the Supreme Court has undone DOMA, it will be an incomplete victory for the millions of lesbians and gay men who are seeking the right to get married in the thirty-seven states that do not recognize marriage equality. In no other nation that has passed gay marriage (fourteen and counting) can you be legally married in one part of a country but not in another part. Marriage is legal in all provinces of Canada. A lesbian married to her female spouse in Paris is also married to her female spouse in Marseilles. So this so-called supreme victory is only a partial victory. America needs to enter the twenty-first century and make marriage equality a human right not just a right depending on what state you live in.

How does the issue of marriage equality affect the million and a half Americans living with HIV? For one thing, in many states the gay partners of patients in the hospital can be denied visitation rights. For instance, a friend of mine who is currently in the hospital in Topeka, Kansas, told me that his partner wasn’t able to visit him because of his family’s prejudice toward gay men. Thankfully, my friend is getting better; his first words over the phone to me the other day were, “Once I’m out of the hospital we’re moving to California!” Equally so, healthcare is a right that all Americans deserve; but how will healthcare become completely equitable if the right to visit a loved one in the hospital is thwarted by prejudice? And how can HIV-positive Americans seek out early testing and treatment if HIV criminalization continues to force people to fear knowing their status and doing something to help them control their own viral loads? Marriage equality shows that when you discriminate against a certain class of Americans, no one wins.

The good news is that we have allies in Congress trying to repeal laws that criminalize “being HIV-positive.” And thanks to the Obama Administration’s expansion of ADAP, thousands of Americans haven’t had to stand in line to get their meds; and we are seeing a steep decline in new infections in places like Africa and Southeast Asia—partially due to the fact that more and more people are receiving U.S.-funded antiretrovirals.

All of these things make America stronger; our image brighter to those living in extreme poverty and dire health conditions; and it is, by and large, due to a new vision for America’s place on the world stage that we are once again considered by dozens of countries as the leader in civil rights, human rights, and economic rights. All of which makes America stronger. This same sort of strength in character can be seen in this month’s cover story, IronE Singleton, whose beliefs were shaped by growing up in a family ravaged by AIDS. His story about his mother, which he also tells in his new memoir, shows that living with HIV and AIDS is a story about how relationships come apart and how they may be strengthened. For Singleton, one of the stars for three years running on the popular The Walking Dead, strength comes from God and the power of love. For Gloria Allred, interviewed by Dann Dulin in this issue, strength comes in persistence and persuasion. For the advocates who descended on D.C. in the new documentary featured in The Culture of AIDS, strength comes in numbers. All of these stories also show that strength survives only if we are empowered to make choices—choosing to take action, choosing the test, choosing marriage—and be willing to defend them.

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U.