[The concluding post, limping along a few days after the close of the Freedom to Marry Week blog carnival, What About Love. Thanks, Robin.]
The whole marriage equality fight can be viewed from so many angles and through so many lenses that a person could get dizzy looking at it. A kaleidoscope of issues keep shuffling and reshuffling: the long battle for gay peoples’ civic and human rights. The use of marriage — by both church and state — as a means to sort and promote not just preferred relationships, but preferred people. The fight, older than our republic, to keep the church and the state separate. The tension in US politics between constitutional and direct democracies — or, if you prefer, between the protection of the minority and the tyranny of the majority.
The fight played out in California this past year in such a way as to split the issues into millions of more shards. Some thirteen and a half million, to be exact, if you are willing to consider each voter to be unique. A little over seven million fell to one side of the vote, nearly six and a half million to the other. These millions could be split and re-split into over half a dozen opposing groups, membership in any one of which could be predictive of one’s vote. Older vs. younger. Regular church-going vs. not so church-going. Evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Mormon vs. everyone else. Coastal vs. inland. Northern vs. Southern. Highly educated vs. less so.
On the one hand were folks who had actually met or known the people whose civil rights they were voting to support or revoke. And on the other were folks who never met any of us face-to-face, never really knew us, but were willing to believe lies about us just because. Because the lies were familiar, and helped somehow reinforce a sense of purpose. Because to search out the truth would entail breaking away from community orthodoxy. Because change is hard, period, even when there’s a little voice inside that whispers that it’s right. Neighbors, family members, co-workers all fought one another — or if they didn’t fight outright, then they suspected one another, mistrusted one another in ways not seen in these parts since who knows when. Since the Gold Rush?
And the wounds are far, far from healed. At the moment, for most of us they’re simply scarred over. No question, come the Supreme Court decision sometime later this spring, whatever’s been festering unexpressed beneath the surface will come forth again.
Yet many of us who appreciate all these complexities also see the issue, paradoxically, as a very simple one. “It’s about love,” we said, and say, and will continue to say, over and over again. Love of partner for partner, parent for child, yes. But more: stabilizing and supporting all love ought, in the world so many of us idealize, to be universally celebrated — love of friend for friend, of child for parent, of stranger for stranger in need.
I haven’t always been a passionate advocate for gay marriage. In fact, when my beloved and I made our commitment to one another going on a dozen years ago, we expressly did not call it a marriage. It was partly because the institution was unavailable to us, and we didn’t want to loiter around its periphery, pretending. But we were also determined in our disdain of it. We are feminists, we have an awareness of the history of the institution, we are deeply skeptical of the state’s ranking and promoting human relationships, for any purpose.
We didn’t even rush to get married the first time we might have, five years ago this month. We weren’t yet convinced the movement needed us in this way at this time (there were so many others willing; there were no Bull Connors to be seen). And we were far from convinced that we would want to marry, at such time as we might be able to, for good. So when this Freedom to Marry Week blog carnival came around last year, my position on the gay marriage issue was complicated and ambivalent. I continued to support a more radical expansion of marriage rights (á la the Beyond Marriage statement), but ultimately conceded that I would go and get me some top-tier legal partnership recognition as soon as it was availed to me, for two main reasons.
First, I had seen a dear friend suffer greatly in the wake of the sudden, accidental death of her partner of fourteen years. Their 2004 San Francisco marriage was annulled just a few months before her partner was killed, and her ordeal in the days, weeks, and months following the death was magnified immeasurably by the lack of unmitigated recognition of their partnership. If that wasn’t enough, I realized, after our kids were born, that I was compelled to do anything within my power to remove any legal barrier between me and them. If there was any degree of family recognition we could gain with marriage over and above the domestic partnership we’d had for years, I was getting it. Damn the torpedoes, damn my own historic ambivalence.
Still, none of this made a zealot out of me like the experience of reading the words of the California Supreme Court justices regarding what they understood to be our constitutionally protected right to marry: why it’s fundamental, why it’s important. And then, slowly over the following weeks, feeling what it was like to know that my family could enjoy a legal status the equal of any of my heterosexual friends’ or family members’. Really. We could. And when I saw the equivalent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride in and attempt to snatch this from us, the significance of it all (tactically, historically, morally) was impossible to ignore. I was compelled to do all in my power to clench that right even closer. For me, for our kids, for anyone like me. For people fighting this battle in the other 48 states of the union.
I’ve tried to describe what just a few facets of that battle looked like over this past week –some old facets, some new, some borrowed, and blue. The common thread over the course of it all is that I was not sustained by a belief that we would win it, but instead by a larger conviction. Whenever my spirits flagged (and they did regularly; I’m still often trying to hoist them), I was reminded that regardless of the outcome of the election (or now, the Supreme Court decision), regardless of where in its historical development the gay civil rights movement turns out to be right now, or how long this battle will ultimately take ’til it’s through, no one, not even one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse can keep me from celebrating the love I give and receive. I celebrate the love given freely to and received gratefully from family, immediate and extended; the love to and from friends come to our aid; the love to and from strangers who simply knew simply that love was right, and stepped up to this fight. I celebrate the fact that one day there’ll be no need to use “love” and the language of battle in the same sentence. Except to note: love conquers all.
And don’t forget Up Popped a Fox for Best Overall Lesbian Blog. Only two more days of this voting stuff; ends 6pm Pacific Daylight Time on Wednesday, Feb 18th (9pm Eastern).