For me this is a special year. The recent Supreme Court ruling has been more than a validation of marriage—it has seemed like a validation of my rights, in general, as a U.S. citizen, and an acknowledgment of a turning point in public opinion, as well. It has helped me feel more “united” with the United States, and less “divided.”
I didn’t do a blog post about it at the time, but Sue and I got married last November, in St. Louis, the day after a federal court ruled Missouri’s anti-marriage amendment unconstitutional. We solemnized it on November 11 in our living room, with my parents, and Uncle Richard and Aunt Carole, in attendance. My mom and dad were our official witnesses! Reverend Coletta Eichenberger, who was then interim pastor at Jefferson City’s Central UCC, performed the ceremony. Sue and I have lived together as a couple since 1994.
A few days later, with all our paperwork signed, we drove back to St. Louis City Hall and got our official certificate.
It’s funny how people seem to forget the legal aspects of marriage—the trip to the courthouse, the paperwork, the document. But this “forgettable” part is the part we gay folks have been fighting for. For years—forever—we have found allies in the religious community to perform our ceremonies, in the eyes of God and our closest friends and family. We’ve had access to the spiritual aspect of marriage for ages, even if only in our hearts, but the legal part of marriage has been elusive, until now. We want those “boring” rights and responsibilities that other married couples apparently take for granted.
So Sue and I drove to St. Louis for the Pride parade last weekend. What a spectacle! (It always is.) In past years, I have felt somehow “apart” from the goings-on at Pride. Like, “those are the younger folks.” And “those are people who like to go to bars and stuff.” “These are big-city people.” This year, however, I felt that a great spectrum of folks were represented, including people like me—however you might define that.
Pride did indeed seem “bigger” this year—no doubt because we were all celebrating the court ruling. And I was moved to tears any number of times. It started at the front of the parade, with a contingent of St. Louis Police officers, many walking with their partners, husbands, or wives. It was moving to see these public servants—our public servants, who potentially risk their lives each day—able to walk down the street without having to hide “who they are.” (The irony of even writing that . . .) Why not support the families who support our police officers?
Soon after, the U.S. flag was carried carefully down the street, and there was tremendous cheering. Considering where we’ve come from, in the last fifty years—that cheering was almost heartbreaking. Someone behind the flag was walking, holding a real live bald eagle. One of our great American symbols. So beautiful. And yes, more tears. I didn’t realize how jaded I had become. It’s interesting how the court ruling renewed my sense of belonging here in this country, a sense that it’s our country, too, and that I’m proud of it.
And the parade went on and on. Hooray for the marching band! Hooray for all the politicians whose participation in the parade signaled their willingness to see LGBT folks as American citizens and constituents! Hooray for the Lambda Car Club, whose members’ vintage vehicles the dignitaries rode in! Hooray for the big corporations that now see the potential PR gain in having a contingent in the parade. (It wasn’t so long ago when those same corporations would have completely shied away from any association with the perverts and their “march.”)
And hooray for the many LGBT groups and allies, including PFLAG, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, and many, many others. It bugs me so many in the media try to create a binary of opposition between LGBT people and “Christians.” As if all Christians are anti-gay. As if gay folks can’t be Christians, too. As if it’s impossible to be both pro-gay-rights and Christian. Thankfully, there are many religious groups who stick up for the rights of LGBT folks. And even the fundamentalists aren’t in lockstep against gay people: Their tide is turning, too.
Then there was the AIDS quilt—another opportunity for tears to roll down my face. I remember . . . so many of us remember: getting the news, learning about it, getting involved, and having friends die. Where were you when you first heard about the “gay plague”? So much has happened since then. I think we’ve all gotten stronger, together.
And there were the quilt panels, being carried down the street. I didn’t recognize any of the names, but I didn’t have to; I have plenty of other names to come to my mind. And the strange juxtaposition, the memory of those people who died in the late eighties and nineties, somehow frozen in history just how they were, and what we were all fighting for then—but today, they were being carried symbolically, proudly down the street, on this new day, this new morning, with a Supreme Court ruling that affirms that our marriages are equal under the law to those of straight people.
It’s a day they could only have dreamed about. And a black president, too? Even I have trouble really believing this has happened, even in my lifetime. We’ve all played a part, every day, by simply being who we are, and refusing to hide our love. Yeah, I wept and applauded as those memorial quilt sections went by.
So this year, the Fourth of July means more to me somehow. Is this how black folks felt the first year after emancipation? Maybe a little. Like it is somehow “our” United States, too.
And this is what Barack Obama said:
“Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal. The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times—a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American.
“Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.
“We are big and vast and diverse, a nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, different experiences and stories but bound by our shared ideal that no matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.
“We are people who believe every single child is entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms, that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.
“That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, talked to parents, parents who loved their children no matter what, folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were.
“And slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.
“What an extraordinary achievement, but what a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things; what a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.
“Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud.
—Present Barack Obama, June 26, 2015