Can you feel it? That tension—a potent mix of fear and hope—in the air this week as the country awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling in two cases that will decide whether gays and lesbians deserve equal rights with respect to marriage and the benefits and burdens that come with that. What’s interesting about these cases is not the small legal details that comprise them (although if you know anyone who knows these details – like lawyers or law students, they love to tell you all about them ad nauseam), it’s that they represent hope and change for those in the LGBTQ community. It’s hard to believe the heartbreaking loss of Proposition 8 was only 5 years ago. I think it took losing gay marriage in California to start the nationwide revolution. We had to truly feel the full weight of the inequality and hatred behind the gay marriage ban to rise up together and say “enough is enough.”
Years have passed and many battles have been won. Washington State, for instance, passed a law last November giving gay couples the right to marry. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. Our nation’s President came out in support of gay marriage. An anti-gay church finally closed its doors for good and issued an official apology. The tides are turning and these Supreme Court decisions can be another huge victory on this long road to equality.
That’s why we’re nervous. We’ve felt that sting of a loss and that burn of hatred before. It stings even more when all we want to celebrate is love. The beautiful, adorable, earthshaking, dream-making love between two individuals. We want to be able to stand up in front of the people we hold dear and profess our love and support to one another, in sickness and in health, until death due us part. I just want my future commitment to be recognized as equal under law in this country. That is my right. You still have the right to your opinions – you can think what you want about my love, and if you can’t realize that it’s every bit as worthy of official recognition as your own, then so be it. It won’t be any less strong or any less official at the end of the day.
I really implore you to watch Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement (which is streaming on Netflix so you really have no excuse but here’s a buzzfeed article to catch you up until you have the chance to watch it). There you’ll see the story of the plaintiff in one of the Supreme Court cases, Edith Windsor. Edie spent forty-four years with her late-spouse, Thea. They loved each other in sickness and in health, until death eventually did them part. But because of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” the federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the federal government didn’t recognize her legal New York marriage to Thea. Because Edie was married to a woman instead of a man, the federal government doesn’t provide her with the same rights—in this case, it meant that when Thea died, instead of inheriting Thea’s property tax-free, as would occur if Edie had been married to a man, Edie instead had to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Imagine what it would be like to lose the love of your life and then be told the commitment you shared with one another is not recognized – that the federal government is treating you the same way it would treat two strangers.
The stakes are high. I can’t say I’m not nervous. At the end of the day, I must remind myself that we’ve been through this before and we will rise up again, no matter what. At the end of the day, I have to recognize that my happiness is not just the Supreme Court’s to give. I will continue fight for my rights with every last breath.
But on this day, I hope the Supreme Court chooses love over hate. I hope they find a light of compassion and hope to bring joy to the hearts of millions. I hope for a victory for Edie, for the people of California, and for all of us. Because our world can only get better, safer, happier and more loving if we embrace one another and our differences. Our world can only get better with more love.