Swish Voices March 21, 2013

Marriage Equality: The Time was Then, The Time is Now

By Charles Herold, Swish Member 

Charles Herold

In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the landmark civil rights case of Brown v. Board of Education.  In a 9-0 decision, the Court struck down the discriminatory ‘separate-but-equal’ ideology that – up to that point – went unchecked and allowed state governments to codify and enforce discrimination under the law.

It’s now 2013, and a similar fight for equality is knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court.  This time, however, it’s the fight for marriage equality. 

As the Supreme Court finds itself in familiar territory – on the corner where the long, bumpy and storied roads of civil rights and the Constitution converge – millions of LGBT citizens and their allies anxiously wait to see which path the Court will take, as they gear up to hear the historical federal case challenging California’s Proposition 8 (the 2008 voter-decided ballot initiative that stripped same-sex couples of the right to marry).  Thinking about the magnitude of this case is enough to cause chills of epic proportions, as well as stir up the nerves of anyone who has been involved in this movement, because the consequences of this decision will be just that, epic.  While the legal issues facing the Court in this case are vast, what’s at stake in the simplest of terms is whether or not our nation’s highest court will decide that LGBT citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law – or whether states have the right to abridge those rights as they deem fit.

All signs on the roadmap of public discourse indicate that the Court’s decision will be on the right side of history, and will carry with it a 50-state ruling that will forbid any state, city or local government from withholding the right to marry from same-sex couples under the 14th amendment.  It is also highly likely that joined in the opinion for the Prop 8 case (Hollingsworth v. Perry), will be the decision in the DOMA case (United States v. Windsor), which is also before the Court.  All of this boils down to what will likely be a watershed moment for equality and justice, one that resonates personally with so many LGBT people, of which I am one.

In the fall of 2002 (not more than a few weeks out of the closet, as a sophomore at Dickinson College), I was asked to debate members of the Dickinson Christian Fellowship on the morality of same-sex marriage.  This debate was to be televised across campus, on the college TV station.  This was the defining moment that made me an activist and advocate for equality.  I wasn't entirely comfortable with being out at this point, and I'll never forget being approached by the DCTV campus managers and asked to participate in the debate. I said yes without even thinking about it.  The two DCTV reps then told me that the debate was in two days, 'was that ok?' -- 'No problem!' was my response.  Or at least I didn't think it was at the time.  How hard could this be, after all? Logic and constitutional ideals clearly were on my side, weren't they?

Even though it was just campus TV, the camera lights flipped on, and out of nowhere I became flushed and my mouth went dry. I downed some water in front of me as they introduced the topic, and quickly got a grip.  It wasn't until after the broadcast was over that I realized I’d gotten choked up and nervous because this was real, not some abstract or hypothetical debate question posited by academics. This was the real deal, and the fact of the matter was that the court of both legal and public opinion at that time were both largely against me and everyone else like me.  It was a sobering, shocking and immensely sad moment.  But it was also an inspirational moment, as it ignited the activist fire inside of me.

The debate aired during finals week, just before the close of the fall semester.  I watched with friends, and it wasn't until I saw their reactions to it that I realized just how important this all was.  Finals came and went, and we all left campus for the holiday/winter break.  By the time I was coming back for the spring semester, I had moved on and kind of forgotten about the whole thing. But the debate was aired again, and more people from across the campus took notice and began to contact me (most voicing their support).  The LGBT magazine on campus tracked me down and asked me to write an article about my experience. (p.10) I was proud to have raised what little awareness I did (after all this experience takes place in the scope of a small liberal arts college in the middle of Pennsylvania with no more than 2,000 students), but also remember feeling the very real hurt of being a dejected member of society, no matter how many people offered words of support.  I knew at that moment that the only thing that would ever change this for me, and for so many others, would be a firm statement of validation from the highest court in the land.  I knew then that the day would come, but didn't know when.  Now here it is, and whenever I let the reality sink in, I'm moved to tears and overwhelmed with the whole gamut of emotions.  In my article for the campus magazine, I wrote the below words (10 years ago exactly):

"It is my sincere hope that the trend towards universal acceptance--or at least tolerance, continues, and that one day I can truly enjoy 100% of the freedom and rights that I currently am denied, but undoubtedly deserve." 

That sums it up for me.  I've been waiting patiently since that moment for this day to come.  It's almost impossible to believe it's actually here sometimes.  And like I said, when I let all that sink in, I'm simply speechless and begin to tear up at the thought that there will soon be a generation of LGBT kids who will never have to feel the way I, and so many countless others, have been made to feel in the absence of equality.