Momentum and Impatience for Marriage Equality
During the last week in March, like many others across the country I was focused on the Supreme Court hearings about same-sex marriage. The cases they heard stand to have enormous impact on my life personally, so I was eager to follow the tweets and the Facebook posts by friends who were at the hearings and on the steps of the Supreme Court on those days, as well as to see how the story was playing out in the press.
During that news cycle, the meme seemed to be that same-sex marriage has “already won,” that there is a sea change in public opinion, and everyone acknowledges that eventually one day same-sex couples will be able to get married legally. I was practically blinded by all of the bright red in my Facebook news feed that week as all of my friends changed their profile pictures to express support the Human Rights Campaign. For a while there, politicians and public figures seemed to be stepping over each other in order to publicly declare their support for marriage equality or civil rights. Indeed it really does seem like folks are starting to truly recognize the bigotry for what it is, and realize that they are going to look ridiculous in the history books. I’m encouraged by the so-called “sea change” in public opinion. Indeed, we seem to have some real momentum in terms of popular support for LGBT civil rights.
While I gladly welcome this change and momentum, I also wonder what is taking so long, especially for those in public office. I’m pleased that Rob Portman, the GOP Senator from Ohio, has done some soul searching to come out on the right side of LGBT rights, particularly marriage equality. What bothers me is that he made the decision for personal reasons instead of considering how this discrimination impacts LGBT citizens that he represents. When Portman’s son came out as gay, he challenged his father to rethink his position on the matter. When he was able to see how discrimination impacted his own son’s life, he had a change of heart.
I know that this is how it this sort of evolution and revelation works for many people, and it makes sense. Once you know someone personally, a family member or a friend, the issue becomes personalized for you. You feel the impact yourself. It becomes about you and your community. This is how progress has been made in the LGBT rights movement.
However, Portman is a public servant, and he has a responsibility to represent ALL of his constituents. I feel compassion for him personally, and I applaud his efforts to evolve his personal beliefs about the issue of same-sex marriage. He stands as a role model for other parents of gay children. But when it comes to policy, I hold people in public office to a higher standard, and I expect them to understand fairness and justice. It is irresponsible for elected officials to legislate based on how those laws are going to impact the lives of their family and friends.
This incremental change, though ultimately moving in the right direction, is really hard to endure at times. The recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America to accept gay kids into its membership, though to keep the ban on gay scoutmasters seems to some like progress. But truly this policy continues to send the message that being gay is wrong. It seems that some think I should be happy about the decision, but in fact it really hurts. Likewise, the public debate on the marriage equality vote in MN was really painful to hear. The anti-gay folks who testified spewed such hatred and bigotry that I had to turn the hearings off. I just don’t want to subject myself to that any more. I know that change is gonna come, and we’re on the right side of history. My right to exist is not a matter for public debate, so it is hard for me not to feel some resentment about the level of public discourse about public policy that impacts my life.
Twenty years ago it never even occurred to me that marriage equality would happen in my lifetime. But now it’s becoming a reality state by state, and now that I am building a life with the love of my life, I have grown impatient for it. I have glimpsed what a world with respect for my spouse and me will look like, what it will feel like to me and to us. Once you are used to living with an injustice, you get used to it, and you almost don’t notice how uncomfortable you are after a while. After the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA, after all of the shows of public support for marriage equality, I was suddenly aware of the additional confidence I felt just walking down the street with Gillian. I hadn’t even been aware of the self-consciousness I feel each day, the worry that people will stare or be uncomfortable because we are two women together. I like to believe that I don’t have to worry about what people think, but the fact is that I do.
The truth is that we couldn’t be more “normal,” whatever that means.
So as we celebrate marriage equality in my home state of Minnesota, and we eagerly await the decision of our former home state of Illinois and the Supreme Court decision on DOMA and Prop 8, we continue to live out our days here in on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia. I go to my 9-5 office job, we make dinner together at night, walk the dog before bed, maybe go to the movies with friends on the weekend, or stay in for a flick with a bowl of popcorn. We’re building our little nest egg, saving to buy a house, saving for retirement, and just hoping that we will soon have fair tax laws, inheritance protections, and hospital visitation rights that will be respected everywhere.