Today and tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on cases that will set the tone for civil rights for years, if not decades, to come.
On March 26, the justices will hear Hollingsworth v. Perry, on the issue of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The justices have agreed to hear argument on the question of whether the U.S. Constitution bars California from limiting marriage to unions of one man and one woman. They will also consider whether those defending Proposition 8 have the standing necessary to do so.
On March 27, the justices are set to hear U.S. v. Windsor, about whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 violates the U.S. Constitution. Another question to be argued is whether the Congress—acting through the House of Represenatives’ [sic] Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group—can defend DOMA even though the Obama Administration agreed with a federal appeals court that the law is unconstitutional. (source)
I cannot believe a reckoning like this is happening so soon. Nine states have already approved of same-sex marriage. Public opinion has gone from strong disapproval to supporting same-sex marriage by margins of 4 to 22 points depending on the poll. (source)
I have been fighting for gay rights for well over a decade. At first, it was letters to Congress and a Human Rights Campaign sticker on my car. I cheered when my church denomination ordained the first openly gay bishop, but I left my particular church over their decision to take a “middle of the road” view on the subject. A “let’s all be friends” and not really discuss anything when I thought the Episcopal churches would spearhead a change in Christianity. I was ashamed of them. I didn’t join another church because, even though their music was beautiful, they believed homosexuality was a sin and that is tantamount to homophobia. Eventually, I wrote how to be a Christian and support gay rights, and I hoped other Christians could see how the Bible does grow and should never be used as a weapon.
I remember when Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage went to the ballot in 2006. I stood the requisite number of feet away from the polling places and handed out Equality Virginia literature explaining why no one should support such a terrible amendment. We didn’t think we would win, not because I was a defeatist but because the vast majority of people did not believe in marriage beyond heterosexual couples. State after state had passed similar (although not as restrictive) bans since 2004 and only one state allowed gay marriage. (source) Sadly, we were right about losing, but everyone celebrated the over 1 million votes against it. I cried for both the people who stood with us and for all those whose rights were taken that day.
I also was asked that year if I was a lesbian while discussing my gratitude for being involved in the gay rights movement. I said: No, I happened to fall in love with a wonderful man. The woman never spoke to me again, but I didn’t stop my work. I did the math years before that conversation. If about 10% of the population is homosexual, they just didn’t have the votes. So I kept my Human Rights Campaign sticker on my car and stayed on the Equality Virginia newsletter and kept caring.
I’ll admit that I hardened against those who continued to promote homosexuality as a sin when so many gay teenagers committed suicide in 2010. But in responded with less rancor and more colors. I put up rainbow flags and rainbow stickers on our cars and tried to create some sort of beacon to the gay and lesbian teenagers living in my community. When other 4- and 5-year-old children taught mine that only a man and woman can marry, I didn’t appreciate intolerance being brought to the playground and into my home, but I sat my children down and explained on no uncertain terms that love is love.
Even on such an amazing day, not everything has changed in America. I know teens who can’t tell one or both parents because their parents will kick them out. I know kids forced out of the church they grew up in only to find another church where they are, at best, tolerated. And they think that’s what they deserve. I worry for all these families and churches because they how do they not see the broken hearts and homes in themselves and their neighbors.
However, so much has in these last few years. I don’t know what exactly happened except I wasn’t the only one walking out of churches, standing at polling places, speaking out. And my friends, who have been in the fight much longer than I, who had electric shock therapy to “get the gay out,” stayed true to themselves as they waited for the rest of us grow up. Today and tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear the arguments for both sides, just as it has on every civil rights issue that America has faced. I pray our justice system will not fail us so we can begin to heal from the failures of our humanity towards the lesbian, gay and transgender community.