Forty-six years after the Stonewall Rebellion, almost to the day, marriage equality has finally become the law of the land. In some ways it feels lightening fast. And yet it also feels that it took way too long, with decades of struggle, setbacks, losses and challenges. And yet today, our lives, loves and families are finally being acknowledged and honored by a society that has taken way too long to recognize us as fellow American citizens, deserving of full equality.
At BTL we are thrilled! We celebrate this historic leap forward and thank each and every Michigander that stood up and fought for this moment. Marriage equality will afford millions of LGBT people the opportunities and responsibilities that come with marriage, including the rights and duties that come with parenting. No longer will LGBT families fear that their children may be yanked away by an unfriendly legal system, and no longer will it be possible for LGBT parents to walk away with no legal consequences from their full responsibilities to dependent children. Proudly, we can marry and accept our roles and responsibilities as full participants in the larger society.
We are grateful to April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse and their legal team led by Dana Nessel. Without their tenacity and willingness to put themselves and their family into the harsh glare of the public eye the case would not have reached the nation’s highest court. As Nessel told BTL, “You can’t win a case that you never file.”
The sacrifices along the way have been enormous. Pioneers who are now gone and who did not live to see this moment but predicted it would arrive should never be forgotten. We especially note the late Frank Kamney and the late Barbara Gittings, who organized 40 people who marched in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall every July 4th from 1965 to 1969. The 50th anniversary of these events will take place July 2 -5 this year.
Thankfully there have been many thousands of courageous people who risked everything, including the loss of love from their own families, the loss of jobs, to the loss of raising their own children. They built a path to justice that cannot be overstated, across all the states of these United States. They stood up over the past five decades against all odds, demanding dignity and equal protection under the law. Too many died alone, isolated and denied the justice they deserved.
One part of the history behind this remarkable moment goes back to 1958 when the very first gay rights case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. In ONE Magazine v. The U.S. Post Office, SCOTUS ruled that a gay publication was not “inherently pornography” and could therefore be sent through the U.S. mail. From this seemingly small recognition giving voice to gay people and allowing us to communicate with one another, we have progressed to this historic day, where we celebrate our most intimate familial relationships in broad daylight under the full recognition of the law.
We know there will be backlash, of that we are certain. Some of it has already come from our state capitol where anti-gay bills seem to be introduced and signed into law way to frequently. So before we complete our exuberant victory laps and go home for good, there remains more work to do to achieve full equality. Our adversaries will try to chip away at our rightful place in society – they have already made moves to make it harder for us to adopt, to keep our jobs, to get appropriate healthcare and even to marry.
Currently Michigan’s civil rights legislation, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes. Right now it remains legal in Michigan to fire someone because they are perceived to be LGBT or refuse them housing or public accommodations, such as service in a restaurant. You could get married, put a picture of you and your spouse on your desk – and then get fired for doing so. Our elected officials must amend Elliott-Larsen to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and we have to work together to hold reluctant politicians accountable if they prove unwilling to do so, including Gov. Snyder.
The tide has now turned in our favor. We have momentum on our side. Now we must continue the march forward with renewed confidence and finish the work that was started decades ago to secure our full equality.