My good friend, Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, wrote a piece last week on race and same sex marriage discrimination in her own lifetime. It’s a great look at the historical parallels of our current struggle for full equality regarding same sex marriage in this country. Like the issue of interracial marriage, these battles will now be waged state by state, until one day we are finally rid of the issue for good. But that’s going to take time.
Nadine’s article brought to mind my youngest sister’s family. She is married to a fine man, who happens to be bi-racial, so my niece and nephew include African-American in their ethnic heritage. I was thinking today about how to talk to them about the historic Supreme Court decisions of this past week. I want them to have a sense of how truly important the rulings are to me, their aunts, personally, not in just some abstract “oh, that’s cool” kind of way. I will tell them that less than a generation ago, their own parent’s marriage would have been illegal in many states, just as mine is today.
I won’t let this pass without the teaching lesson, because on a basic level, I want them to understand that matters of equality are always tremendously important. As Nelson Mandela stated, “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.” In our current age, where history and civics are increasingly squeezed out in budget cuts, or simply re-written to fit the politics of the time, it has never been more important to understand the gravity of civil rights victories. We are always better as a country when the rights of all are protected equally.
I’ll share my experiences with the younger members in my family. The way it hurts me when people who say they are my friends—or even my own family—remain silent when laws are passed to take away my rights, whether as a woman or a lesbian. I want them to understand that nothing is more important than one’s own personal integrity. Standing up for the truth is right, even if it makes someone else uncomfortable, or you unpopular. One of my other friends, who is a lesbian, is fond of telling me that I shouldn’t “push” people. When it comes to our relationships, people can know, but they don’t necessarily want to know. She wonders why I can’t stay quiet and live my life. I guess that means using vague language and omission in an attempt to avoid making people uncomfortable. I don’t get that. I’m not getting in everyone’s face every day, but I feel it’s important to be authentic and own who I am openly.
Even though 37 states in this country still disrespect my marriage and deny my right to exist as a married person, I will still introduce Sandy as my wife—regardless of who asks me. It’s the truth. When the children in my family ask me if Sandy and I are married, of course I say yes. They need to see that truth and integrity, not waffling. To do anything less shames Sandy, me, our relationship, and sends a message to the outside world that I agree we’re not worthy. I don’t agree.
So, it’s my hope that all of our children will learn about the day the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as a pivotal moment in American history, as a lesson in equality and human dignity. And maybe my nieces and nephews will remember the way we were able to talk openly about fairness and love. Most of all, I hope they’ll live in a world where this debate seems foreign and arcane, and love and commitments are celebrated always. But, as Nadine says, part of the conversation will always be, “That’s why Aunt Sandy and I were married in Massachusetts.”
Peace and Happy Pride~ LM