The Weight of History: Marriage Equality at the Supreme Court

There have been a few moments in my life — walking along the winding path down to Omaha Beach, standing in the soul-crushing silence of the gas chamber at Auschwitz, planting my feet on the spot where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech — where I swear I could feel the weight of history pressing down upon my heart. In each of those moments, in each place, I’ve found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of what happened there and the sheer number of lives that were forever changed as a result.

scotus_j_327_jerame_photoshopAs I stood yesterday in front of the building that houses the Supreme Court of the United States, just hours before it considers whether or not gays and lesbians should be able to marry the people they love, I had another one of those experiences — I again felt the weight of history.

As LGBT people, our history includes a great deal of pain and suffering. We’ve been persecuted by religions and governments, labeled mentally ill, imprisoned, castrated, lobotomized, queer-bashed, ‘correctively’ raped, forced into damaging ‘ex-gay’ therapy, interred in concentration camps, stoned, and hanged. As I stood on that sidewalk, I thought about the generations of courageous LGBTs and allies who came before us and braved a world more hostile than most of us can comprehend in order to help get us to where we are today. Some of their names we know — Harvey Milk, Alice B. Toklas, Oscar Wilde — but most have been forever lost to history.

I also remembered the thousands of couples across the nation who, like the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, can’t yet wed because their partner is the same gender that they are. I thought of the scores of spouses like Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, together until death and reminded in death that in the eyes of the United States, their lifelong loving relationships mattered less. I reflected on parents like mine, who work tirelessly for justice in the hope that one day all of their children will be able to live and love equally. And I thought about how LGBT people and our allies change minds and hearts by sharing our personal stories. Talking with people people that day, I felt the weight of many stories — friends and strangers, the beautiful and the heartbreaking, the tragic and the jubilant — as I stood at the doorstep of the Supreme Court.

Then I thought about my own story: as a small-town Midwestern Catholic boy, I struggled with guilt, depression, and self-destructive thoughts because of what I perceived as an “unmentionable sin,” and I hit rock bottom after attempting to commit suicide because I was so ashamed that God couldn’t made me straight. It got better, though — I began to accept and eventually embrace the fullness of my identity as a gay man. Seven years ago this month I married my beloved husband Michael. In 2006, no U.S. state would marry us, but the marriage commitment was so important to us that we left the country in order to make it. We’ve fought for marriage equality ever since (nearly our entire adult lives). Seven years later, same-sex marriage is supported by nine states, the District of Columbia, the President, large swaths of the business, political, and faith communities, and the clear majority of the American people. But the fight for full equality continues, and it’s that fight — and my love for Michael — that brought me to that sidewalk on 1st Street where I stood yesterday, looking up at the imposing façade of the Supreme Court building with tears streaming down my face.

So many stories, so many lives. So much suffering, so much love.

But it is love that makes me optimistic, regardless of whether the Supreme Court decides to be act as a pothole (upholding an exclusionary definition of marriage), a speed bump (ducking the issue on a technicality), or a green light (delivering a pro-LGBT verdict) on the road to full marriage equality. In this movement, we’re fighting for love. Our opponents’ hatred for my marriage will never be stronger than my love for my husband Michael. Their disgust and disdain for our families can never surpass the depth of our commitment to our spouses and children. And the fact that a majority of Americans — including eight out of every ten people under the age of thirty — support the right of LGBT people to love and marry equally proves that the road to equality is a one-way street.

No one knows for certain how the arguments today or tomorrow will go, nor do we know how the Supreme Court will rule in June. But we do know that the day will soon come when LGBT individuals, couples, and families are equally protected under the law. We know it won’t be long until we are fully and wholly included in the lofty American ideals of liberty and justice for all. And we know that we will win this fight.

The full weight of our history has come to bear today, and I know it will ultimately tip the scales toward justice, toward love.

5 comments

  1. David Morstad

    Very beautifully expressed, John. The day is surely coming when those who should know better will be held accountable by those who know best.

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