At 4:30 AM on March 27, 2013 I found myself freezing my ass off outside the Supreme Court with around four hundred others, hoping to get one of the golden tickets (okay, they were purple) to watch the oral arguments before the panel of nine Supreme Court Justices. I had followed the case closely and had contributed to a brief that had been submitted to the Court in favour of Edie’s case. So I knew, as did everyone else, that this was the most important moment for the American civil rights movement of the last thirty years and the most important moment for gay Americans, ever. (I won’t go in to how I got one of those tickets, as it may involve paying a lovely ex-con I met in line and deploying a serious Celtic charm offensive to monkey-bar my way to the front of the line, but I got in!).
While I anticipated that the Court would ask some difficult questions about the legal differences between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, what I didn’t expect was that even that wait in line would be an exercise in tolerance and compassion. I first met a man who looked me straight in the face and likened gay marriage to murder; he said it was the same kind of sin. When I challenged him he said that I was cute and that it was maybe okay that I was “gay married,” before he squeezed my cheek and shook my hand.
I then met a lady who said she thought that it was messed up that the Court was spending time on “those [insert rude words for gay people] who wanna play at getting married” when it should have been dealing with welfare reform and education. When I pointed out that this was the first day in the Court’s history when it had ever spent any time on this issue and that the sweet thing about democracy was that everyone gets to say what’s important to them, she seemed to soften and we even hugged goodbye.
In the courtroom I sat next to a senior Christian military chaplain who told me that recognizing gay marriages would cause a lot of pain for his Christian minister colleagues. When I calmly pointed out that it had been incredibly painful for the gay community to carry around the burden of rejection for many decades, he was silent for two whole minutes before turning to me with a tear in his eye and thanking me for allowing him to see things in a new light.
It was a momentous day filled with the smell of cherry blossom, in which connections were made while the Westborough Baptist Church waved their horrible signs, and divides were crossed next to a man dressed in pink Lycra blaring Lady Gaga from a humungous beat box. People truly bonded over their concern for the future of the institution called marriage and came to recognize strangers as friends.
People of all descriptions care so much about marriage because we all seek the fundamental freedom to love and to be loved in return. We fight about it because sometime people get scared that if they share the gift of marriage with too many others, there will be less joy to go round. Instead, just like the loaves and the fishes, it is by sharing this great gift that you create an abundance of joy for everyone.
So, the next time you roll your eyes at having to file that joint tax return (I know it ain’t sexy) just you remember that lots of couples were denied that right until not too long ago and plenty still are today (at a state level at least). To be recognized as a married couple by your own country—as an official, measurable and counted unit of love—is what it means to be truly equal.