Today, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages must be recognized as legal in all 50 states and U.S. territories. 13 states that had passed same-sex marriage bans or did not recognize such marriages performed in other states are compelled to do so under the 14th Amendment. Some may ask why such a decision could not be left to the states, when 37 states currently allow same-sex marriage. For a same-sex couple, this would mean that a simple relocation for a job or to be closer to loved ones could force them to surrender the legal rights afforded by marriage.
The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.
Those who have loved and supported someone who has fought for equality in the eyes of the law undoubtedly have much to celebrate. However, our unity as a community on this topic remains to be seen.
I am one of many people who has undergone a major transition in regards to my perspective on this issue. In 2004, I was one of 2,454,912 people who voted to ban same-sex marriage under Amendment 1 in the state of Georgia (768,703 voted no). I did so under my religious beliefs at that time, believing that I had voted as my faith guided me to. I can see now that as someone who never openly discriminated against others, but did so at the polls, I was dangerous. When people asked “Who are these people and why do they hate us?”, I can honestly say that I didn’t know what painful, lasting effects my vote had because I had never experienced their impact. As a heterosexual cis-gender woman, I would never have to.
I can remember a moment that at the time did not stand out, but now lingers as a gentle foreshadowing to my transition in thought. In January 2006, Coretta Scott King passed away. A pioneer of civil rights, she spoke vocally about marriage equality. As I became aware of her perspective towards the end of her life, I could not understand why she so boldly equivocated it with the African-American struggle for civil rights. I knew there was something she believed with deep conviction that I had yet to see for myself. I remember standing for hours in the rain on a dark February night, waiting for my opportunity to visit her casket at Ebenezer Baptist Church to pay my final respects. I knew that even in her passing, she still had much to teach me.
Several public statements made by Coretta Scott King in 1998 reflect what was most likely a long-term stance:
“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice,” she said. “But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'” “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
“For many years now, I have been an outspoken supporter of civil and human rights for gay and lesbian people,” King said at the 25th Anniversary Luncheon for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund…. “Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.”
My ears were not open at this time. I still did not understand. But perhaps, a foundation was being laid.
What opened my mind
My evolution of thought came as someone who I had deep regard and respect for as a friend graciously shared her own journey to marry the woman she loved. I have never been able to articulate to her what a powerful witness she was just by sharing her perspective with me. I saw her firsthand account of how hard she was fighting for the right to live her own life, and finally understood how my vote stood in the way of that. My vote had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with her rights. I had to decide what side of history I wanted to stand on.
Challenging my convictions on a personal level forced me to reconcile my faith, to challenge the interpretation I had been offered. My faith was not abandoned, but ultimately deepened as a result. I learned more about Christ’s love in this time than I thought possible. My personal experience became an opportunity for spiritual transformation. I started to see perspectives around me that had once been invisible. They grew incredibly loud, and I felt a shift within myself. I knew where I stood. In 2008, as a resident of California, I voted to strike down the same-sex marriage ban. I have become an ally and an advocate because of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer voices who refused to remain silent in the midst of oppression.
Today, I saw a picture of two women, one shedding tears as they filed their papers to get married in Georgia. I cried, thankful that time has borne witness not only to my own evolution of beliefs, but the tide of justice on this issue nationwide.