I was at the first same-sex civil union performed in Connecticut, and for that I consider myself privileged. After the brides slowly walked down the aisle to the altar, the Unitarian pastor performing the ceremony told us, through tears, that they symbolically took their time getting to the altar because it has taken them a long, long time to be able to get married. For a couple that had been together for more than 20 years, and had each spent a lifetime fighting for their right to get married, it was about bloody time they were allowed to openly, proudly declare their love for one another and have that love recognized by the state.
That was in 2005. It would still be three more years before Connecticut became only the third state to enact same-sex marriage legislation. Other states followed suit, but not without problems. In 2008, California’s infamous Prop 8 banned same-sex marriage in my current home state, rolling back a right that had been granted to gay couples previously, and prompting a litany of suits that have now reached the Supreme Court. But even in 2005, although it was still an uphill battle for millions of gay couples in the United States, it wasn’t unthinkable that the nation was at a tipping point. In just seven years’ time, a blink of the eye in legislative terms, nine states now allow same-sex couples to marry, with the first to allow it by popular vote in the last election. The president of the United States, for the first time, publicly acknowledged his support of the issue. Multiple Republicans and GOP insiders have acknowledged that there is little they can do about the eventual legalization of same sex marriage nationally. And in a stunning symbolic blow to the sadomasochistic social conservative movement, conservative-turned-libertarian Glen Beck is joining Bill O’Reilly and the ranks of the right who finally acknowledge that small-government conservatism means the government should stay out of love as well.
Pictures of couples marking their 40 years of commitment to each other with wedding rings say more about the necessity of righting this fundamental injustice nationally than I ever could, but it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on how we got here, and just how important this is to the nation. There are people today who still remember when “miscegenation” was illegal, and when blacks couldn’t marry whites. Hell, there are people today who were around when women first got the right to vote. It is a painful legacy of our history that only until recently have all people, of all kinds, truly been a part of the national project. And nothing is more odious than the interjection of government power into private lives of citizens (if you ask me, we’re going in the wrong direction: we should be ending government involvement in marriage altogether). But especially when sex and love have been used by countless regimes in history to drive wedges between people of different races and faiths (especially where religion is concerned), it has finally become somewhat of a banality at this point to stand up and declare openly, “I can love who I want and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I could say a lot about this, particularly about South Africa which went from apartheid’s strict regulations on sex and marriage to full-blown marriage equality within 20 years, but it is amazing how steadfastly civil liberties can be protected as long as people keep speaking out for them. For there are plenty of people who would like this “sin” to be punishable by death. There are plenty of people who would like to see gays “cured” by the state, or see religion in general imposed upon children in classrooms. And, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of our friends on the left who would like to tell people what foods they can eat, or what lightbulbs they can use, or what is appropriate to say and in which fora. There will always be people who believe they have a right not to be offended by someone else’s personal choices and beliefs, and they will work to take away our rights in turn.
The test of the immutability of the right to marriage is not whether it becomes national law in 5 years, but whether in 30 years, or 50 years, people take it for granted, the way I fear many people today take their right to a fair trial for granted. Whether people realize how difficult it was to acquire these rights, there are always sinister forces looking to defeat them. We must be vigilant and continue to fight to protect our natural rights, rights that should and will belong to us even if our universe has been clouded with totalitarianism.
The wedding bells today in Washington are a welcome sound to all who can hear them. And may they soon ring out in Mississippi and Georgia and Idaho. And may they soon ring out in Indonesia and Iran and Uganda. And when they do, let us not forget how hard it is to gain our rights, and never fail to protect them.
As an aside: if you are a supporter of gay rights, but also believe in conservative ideals like small government, free minds and free markets, I recommend donating to GOProud, an conservative gay rights organization that supports states’ rights (that wonderful feature of federalism that has allowed gay couples to get married all across America even while many people oppose it). Whereas they are a little controversial on their narrow line on same-sex marriage, they get points for fighting discrimination and pushing for more acceptance in the conservative movement.