Justice For All: DOMA, Tam O’Shaughnessy… Remembering Sally Ride

Justice For All: DOMA, Tam O’Shaughnessy… Remembering Sally Ride


This is the first of a two part tribute to Dr. Sally Ride, Sherman Hemsley, and Lupe Ontiveros. See part two here.

After expressing my most sincere condolences to all those grieving, and deepest respect for the memory of Alex Okrent and the victims of senseless violence in Aurora, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois, I prayed for a respite from sadness, heartache, and frustration. But after Sally Ride’s loss to pancreatic cancer, Sherman Hemsley’s passing, and Lupe Ontiveros’s loss to liver cancer, I don’t feel I can. These three human beings pushed boundaries, paved paths, and deserved better than to have vital elements of their identities minimized until death.

Wow! That’s how the biography for Dr. Sally Ride on National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s “Learning Center for Young Astronomers” webpage begins. And this word choice could not be more appropriate. The first American woman in space, applied for NASA’s astronaut program in response to a newspaper announcement of the opportunity to serve as a scientist committed to space exploration, innovation, and the betterment of all living beings. 8,000 men and women applied for 35 slots. Dr. Ride, who received four degrees from Stanford University, including a Ph.D. in astrophysics, was one of six women accepted. Dr. Ride was never a stranger to success, or national recognition of her talent. In college, she was ranked one of the best tennis players in the nation. Legendary superstar Billie Jean King even urged her to drop out so she could immediately start playing professionally. A hero for the United States and all nations, Dr. Ride refused to rest on her laurels, she translated her inspirational biography into a career as an educator, mentor, and leader in the effort to recruit diverse students from all gender, ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A case in point, her support of “Change the Equation,” a national initiative to increase STEM literacy, announced by President Obama in 2010.

Dr. Ride’s professional life was one of milestones. But her personal life would always be void of one. She loved a woman named Tam O’Shaughnessy for 27 years. In the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s, NASA would not have retained an astronaut openly engaged in a same-sex relationship. Dr. Ride’s personal sense of privacy notwithstanding, coming out would have meant an end to her career in the space program. Today, regardless of President Obama and Vice-President Biden’s support for same-sex marriage, only 6 states and the District of Columbia embrace equal marriage rights. Two states recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. 42 states have statutes or amendments to their state constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage.

Dr. Ride never married her loving partner of 27 years. This is likely because if they had wished to do so legally, prior to Dr. Ride’s passing, they would not have been able to in 84% of the United States of America—the country that today mourns her and calls her a hero and role model.

Because she is not legally recognized as a widow, Dr. O’Shaughnessy is not eligible for Social Security survivor’s benefits. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is the law of the land. And this means more than the fact that some Americans are afforded the opportunity to file joint tax returns while others are not. It speaks to a lingering hypocrisy in the words that conclude the Pledge of Allegiance. DOMA made Dr. Ride and Dr. O’Shaughnessy second-class citizens.

We need to conquer cancer the way that Dr. Ride conquered space. Nearly 580,000 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2012. We also need to conquer everything preventing same-sex marriage in all 50 states—from DOMA to the homophobia demonstrated by Jennifer Carroll, the Boy Scouts, and Chick-fil-A—not just because it is the right thing to do. But because “with liberty and justice for all,” is neither an ideal, nor an aspiration: It is a promise assented to, a guarantee that equal protection under the law was not written into the Constitution alongside a “damned asterisk.”


  1. I propose forming a group to purchase a small tract of land in Washington, D.C. On it should be erected a memorial to the bigotry that DOMA is. There should be inscribed the name of each senator and representative who voted for it, so their grandchildren will know their bigoted heritage!

  2. If same-sex marriage was TRULY about love, then a marriage ceremony wouldn't really matter would it? If it's NOT about love, is it about money and entitlement? For as long as humanity can remember, marriage has been the mainstay of heterosexual couples. For better or for worse – but, even when given "domestic partner" benefits, those who would have it ONLY their way insist in removing the heterosexual exclusivity from marriage.

    Why? Again, I don't see it as just love being the motive. People can love and partake in each others lives fully without ever getting married. No, this is about a power struggle and the ability to "win" – every social advance in our country has had some kind of discernible struggle. So, it's NOT really about love, power, or money. It's about the principle of the thing, and showing all us "homophobes" up. For the record, I love all of my non-straight friends & family, and I don't consider them not being able to marry as an act of bringing them to 2nd class citizen status – and they have told me as much as well. Not sure who's rocking the boat on both sides of this aisle, but I suspect it's politically motivated almost as much as it is socially.

    People's lives shouldn't be up for grabs with such theatrics. We all have our place in life – we can try and change things all we we want, but the bottom line is that acceptance is more powerful than "tolerance." Most people who know me, also know I am fair and compassionate – but I am insulted, called names, and treated with ZERO tolerance by the very same people who ask us all to be tolerant – all because I disagree with giving a right to someone else that I feel will diminish my own. This may be right or wrong, but it's my opinion. Just as I'm asked to respect others, so should mine be respected – we should be able to disagree in a civil manner.

    • If marriage isn't about love, then you must be arguing to eliminate it for straight people too?

      Either that, or you make no sense at all.

      Look: marriage has a couple of definitions–legal and religious. They are not the same. Your religion defines it as man/woman. Great, fine, whoopee, most people don't agree but OK. However, LEGALLY, there cannot be discriminatory classifications. The rights that come along with being married MUST be available to all. That's how the law works, how the Constitution demands it work in this country.

      Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "well civil unions are fair." But do you remember your old history classes? "Separate but equal" and all that? That's not how America works, we DO NOT DO THAT. We do not say, what's good for this group, is bad for that group. There is a badge of inferiority that comes along with that, such that saying "you drink from that water fountain" or "you get these rights but DO NOT call it marriage" makes the group feel inferior. We do not do that in America.

      If you're religious definition is threatened by this, that's too bad. Get over it. Your God can still treat gays as second class citizens; that's up to you and your God. If a church doesn't recognize gay marriage, fine. But the government and the law MUST.

  3. Hi Edwin – I too would be interested in your answer to Jon's question. How would marriage equality diminish your own rights? It seems that any right that one individual has that another does not have does show a difference in status in society.

    As someone who fits into the queer category, my love for my partner is real. I someday would like to marry my partner as a symbol of my devotion & commitment to her long term. My friends and family—the community that supports us and love us as we do them—will be invited. The wedding itself allows us to state our commitment publicly amongst our community who will hold us accountable for our vows to one another. Our marriage as she and I have discussed would be one of true partnership celebrated joy and support in the sorrow filled times. We are pretty regular folks and active members of our communities, we only want the same rights that our straight friends have.

    Why does marriage equality matter to me personally? It would allow us as a couple important rights such as being able to be there for one another in the hospital. I’ve been there for friends during family emergencies, pregnancies, etc and current laws limit lgbt couples ability to fully be there in troubled moments like hospital visits. There are so many nuances in the laws that passing one law for hospital visits or another law for same sex parents wouldn’t resolve these obstacles. I would ask that you re-think your opinion on behalf of my family and families like mine. Many thanks for your consideration.

    I’m in a bit of a rush, off to celebrate my partners birthday, please excuse any type-os.

  4. RIP, Sally Ride. She loved her partner without needing anyone's consent or blessing. It would have been nice, however, if she had been able to marry her partner and left her partner with the same benefits afforded to all heterosexual spouses.

  5. […] With Liberty and Justice For All…Remembering Sherman Hemsley and Lupe Ontiveros 4 seconds ago | Also Featured in Culture Opinion Unai Montes-Irueste + Follow 0Note: This is the second half of a two part tribute to Dr. Ride, Sherman Hemsley, and Lupe Ontiveros. See part one here. […]