The ACLU and Windsor: "The future is ours. Equality is in this country's DNA."
I sat in the Supreme Court yesterday hearing the historic arguments in the Windsor case. I felt a mixture of pride, hope, awe, anger, frustration and optimism. At different times, I didn’t know if I could restrain my coursing thoughts and emotions from bursting through in an audible way.
Even though I am trained as a lawyer and could normally hold my own as issues related to federal jurisdiction, federalism, and state’s rights were being debated – that’s not where I was at yesterday.
Yesterday, I was living in my heart – not my mind.
I felt pride. I sat in the court as the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Edie Windsor in this case. The ACLU brought our first gay rights case in 1936. And we brought our first same-sex marriage case in 1971. We’ve been at the forefront of the struggle for LGBT equality for almost 80 years. I’m proud that the ACLU has had both the courage and staying power to push the envelope when winning seemed impossible.
I also was proud on a personal level – as a gay man. For the LGBT community to have made it to this point in our fight – demanding full equality and dignity from our government – has been a long time in coming. For too many years, I and many other salt-of-the-earth LGBT folk accepted the prejudice and discrimination meted out to gays as part of life. Not anymore. Not anywhere. Not from anybody.
I also felt awe. Awe that we have a democracy that takes these issues as seriously as it should. It is amazing that we have a countervailing mechanism in America – the courts – to protect the rights of the minority from the whims of the majority. I was awestruck by the power, gravity and importance of the Court. What the Court decides in Edie’s case will affect the life of one wonderful woman I have come to cherish and admire. But it will also affect the lives of millions of Americans for generations to come.
I also felt anger. Paul Clement, the lawyer who argued that DOMA should be upheld, really pissed me off. He told the justices and the people in the courtroom that DOMA was not necessarily fueled by animus against gays. Are you kidding me? I wanted to say out loud, “that’s bullshit Paul and you know it.” DOMA was all about anti-gay hate and animus. If gay people like me were allowed to marry, the very institution of marriage would be threatened, said the homophobes. Let’s at least be honest that prejudice against gays was the mother’s milk that weaned the birth of DOMA. Upholding DOMA would mean that the Court endorses that discrimination or prejudice. Striking it down would be a big step toward ending the hatred and discrimination that still exists in our America.
And I felt frustration. Even as I stood on the steps of the court hugging Edie, people held up hateful signs saying gays don’t deserve the right to marry. Two of them said “Fags are beasts” and “Death Penalty for Fags.” I took a picture in front of them. Of course, I support their right to protest, but their signs were a frustrating reminder that even if we win this case – and I do think we will win it – the battle will be far from won. Our opponents are going to double down and fight even harder.
But I ended the day feeling optimistic. A young man I met over eight years ago, when he was 16 years old, came up to me and told me he had come to the Supreme Court to lend his support to us and to Edie. Seeing his determination and his optimism, and the optimism of the thousands of other young people like him at the courthouse, I knew that we were on the right side of history. That no matter how hard our opponents would fight us, we would be up for the fight. That we had legions of activists who will see this through until full equality for all LGBT people is secured.
The future is ours. Equality is in this country’s DNA. I believe that very soon LGBT folks will be granted their full equality before the law. That’s the America I know and love. I have faith in our future.