The DOMA Diaries
by John Stoltenberg
The year 2013, when the Supreme Court narrowly struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, has already faded from America’s short-term memory but not so much as has 1996, the year President Bill Clinton spinelessly signed it into law. Time passes, the news cycle moves on, people get used to taking things for granted. In effect, same-sex marriage has been normalized. Generations of queer kids will come along who have no recollection of what life and love were like for those whom law once kept asunder
So it is that The DOMA Diaries serves as an important memory prompt, a necessary flashback. Written by Kevin Michael West, The DOMA Diaries takes the form of amiably theatricalized storytelling to bring back to mind the damage DOMA did.
The play premiered last summer in the Fringe festival in a production directed by West that my DC Metro Theater Arts colleague David Friscic reviewed and rated five stars and a “best of the festival” pick. I missed the play then but happily The Rainbow Theatre Project—in keeping with its commitment to showcase works “that reflect the unique experiences, interests and history of the LGBTQ community”—brought back the same cast and director to reprise the show in two performances at Source.
I went assuming I was kind of familiar with what the consequences of DOMA had been, but West’s script opened my eyes to particulars I’d not realized. He has created three fictional couples who are composites, as the program says, “inspired by the real life experiences of LGBT Americans.” In each couple’s story West makes vivid how DOMA came down around three specific issues in U.S. law: survivor benefits, immigration, and adoption. West’s choice of those three issues proved both apt and revealing.
Audrey (Joy Gerst), a veteran, wants to be buried in Arlington Cemetery next to her deceased wife, also a vet, but is legally forbidden that final-resting-place respect, which straight spouses are entitled to.
Red (Christian Rohde) and Oliver (Garrett Matthews) meet cute, fall in love, and get married in a state where that’s allowed. But Oliver is a Russian national, he’s in the States on a work visa, and he must leave the country when it expires. Had the couple been straight, he’d have spousal rights to stay.
Janice (Renae Erichsen-Teal) and Sophie (Nell Quinn-Gibney) have two kids (the biological child of each). When Janice falls terminally ill, Sophie wants to adopt Janice’s child as her own, but under the law she cannot. Against Janice and Sophie’s wishes, Janice’s father George (Steven Wolf, who also plays Audrey’s brother) tries to adopt the child instead, which he can legally do as next of kin.
That precis of the legal issues in the script sounds more schematic than the show plays. West has done a fine job of crafting relatable narratives that pull us into these characters’ relationship crises and yield real emotional payoff when each has its hard-won resolution.
At one point a character makes reference to a sign seen carried by a demonstrator in an anti-DOMA protest:
Your laws will not change our love. But our love will change your laws.
Even though DOMA is done for and marriage equality has been normalized, the spirit of that slogan is needed now more than ever. Our not-normalizable president elect, when pressed last month on 60 Minutes for his opinion on legalization of same-sex marriage, said he is “fine with that.” Given his proclivity for prevarication, there’s every chance he’ll not remember having said it. But for the LGBTQ community—as Rainbow Theatre’s timely remount of The DOMA Diaries reminds us—forgetting history is not an option.
Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission.
The DOMA Diaries was presented by the Rainbow Theatre Project December 11 and 12, 2016, at Source Theatre – 1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For information on upcoming Rainbow Theatre Project productions, go to their website.
2016 Capital Fringe Review: ‘The DOMA Diaries’ by David Friscic