Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Day Marriage Equality Became the Law of the Land

On February 14th, 2004, thousands of couples were lining up to get married at City Hall in San Francisco. In a strange quirk of fate, we found ourselves in a great crowd of people - we accidentally chose to get married the same weekend that the city began to suddenly issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples! After some initial confusion about where to line up and how to get the papers we needed in the pandemonium, the historic nature of the events gradually dawned on me. Like being an immigrant for the first time, sometimes it takes a jolt of someone else's reality to see the basic wrongness in classifying people as "normal" and "other". And of course I grew up in Yorkshire, not San Francisco, so a lot was still new to me. It gave me a lot to ponder for several days, and among other things I wrote and we recorded this song.

Six months to the day later, on August 14th, we were back in San Francisco. We'd moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but we got a slot for a green-card interview back in San Francisco, and so back we went. While we were there, the court ruling came through that the marriages from that day six months earlier were null-and-void. Luckily again for us, the headlines were one bit overblown - it wasn't all marriages from that day, the court was, ahem, discriminating enough to let the handful of straight marriages stand. It was unfair and depressing, and all too aware of the situation, we had a lot of survivor's guilt.

In a surprise turn, Maryl and I found ourselves invited to speak and even sing in front of a rally that evening, in front of the same City Hall where we were married. We were introduced, not surprisingly, as "a couple whose marriage would stand", and understandably when they saw us, most of the crowd were probably as surprised as we were. I remember, we talked of the privilege of marriage, how as an international couple it was crucial to our being able to stay together, and how irrational it was to make immigration and any number of other legal decisions based on your partner's gender. We said it was wrong, and that we would do our best to help put it right, which people appreciated.

Then what I remember saying was something like the following:

"Our culture does not protect freedom by restricting freedom. We don't protect democracy by saying that only males can vote. We don't protect liberty by saying that only white people can be free. We don't protect the Bible by saying you can only read it in Latin." (A few chuckles.)

"And we don't protect marriage by saying that only straight couples can marry!" (Reverberating cheers.)

"Today we're still together, still married. But for the sake of freedom to love each other, our marriage will not be fully complete, will not be fully consecrated, until everyone shares that freedom." And then we sang the song, and people started to join in the chorus, "Those who love has joined together ever will united be."

And it came to fulfillment today, June 26th 2015. The Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling saying that barring same-sex couples from being legally married is in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which includes "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States".

It has come true, we have come so far together, cherishing the love we had then and seeing it grow so much already. My heart goes out to the whole nation, especially to those whose rights are sundered no longer. May those who are hurting find peace in their hearts across the country. May we all find freedom from the very idea that freedoms for one group must be taken from another. But selfishly, my heart is at home tonight. For some of the years in between, we thought we'd glimpsed something that was right, that was coming, but that was not to be for decades. We were wrong. Tonight I'm happy as well for us, for our freedom to marry, that was once restricted, is consecrated today.