As a writer for Gay Fresno, and someone who religiously follows LGBT political news, I knew about the California case before the Supreme Court regarding same sex marriage. I’d posted the details of the story as it started to happen, and an update here or there afterwards, but in reality, it ended up slipping my mind. For years, I’d tracked court case after court case on the constitutionality of denying LGBT Americans equal marriage rights, and case after case was ruled against us. So I wasn’t registering internally with every step as I’d done so often before. It’s almost as if I knew the end before it happened.
Then on May 14th, as I checked news, I saw the ruling in the California Supreme Court Case would be announced the following morning, on May 15th. While I was a little surprised at myself for forgetting about it, I posted a piece on it and then went about my business, fairly certain I’d wake up to dismal news the next day. On May 15th, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBT Americans in California, and that we could no longer be denied equal marriage rights.
Over the next month, oppositions to the ruling, of course, spouted the same, tired rhetoric they always had, none of it applying to the case, the “will of the people” no more pertinent in this matter than in the matter of whether we pay our taxes or not. Still, we’d been defeated year after year based on arguments that made no sense and vividly contradicted the founding principles of this country, so until the day arrived, I wasn’t comfortable saying “we won”.
Fresno’s a tough town in which to organize an LGBT political event of any kind. But walking up the Fresno County Clerk’s office Tuesday morning, to marry my partner of 12 years, James, I could see things were different. There were people everywhere, couples and supporters, media and cameras, suits and ties, veils and dresses, and most importantly, a genuine joy in the air. We were part of history. Sometimes you happen to be somewhere or see something that places you at least in the vicinity of an historical moment, a story you can relay for a lifetime that makes you feel integral to a pivotal moment.
But this was not incidental. All LGBT Americans, whether political activists or simply visible people, have created this victory. We have been in America just as long as anyone else, paid taxes like anyone else, gone to banks and schools and stores and churches and parks just like anyone else, but we have done this without equal civil rights. Tuesday was a monumental shift in American history, a day that will influence many more to come, and in this small community, in what can still be called a conservative, behind the times social structure, there we were, taking to the streets to take advantage of our civil rights, to celebrate together and with the ones we love. The lift of a burden was palpable in the air and on the smiling and crying faces of all those in attendance.
Members of GSA and CCA were there, Marriage Equality, PFLAG, and many others lined the streets, taking pictures, passing out flowers and congratulating all the couples as they lined up and strode into the clerk’s office to make a commitment to the one they loved, but more importantly to be legally recognized as a couple, just as valid and just as important as any other couple who’d taken those steps before them.
While there were straight couples getting married as well, mixed in among the crowd of gay couples, there was no conflict. A small, family group of protestors maintained a spot on the sidewalk down the street for a short while, but their presence was so pointless as to be insignificant. Instead, car horns sounded up and down the street in support, people cheered on the streets in response, and everyone at the County Clerk’s office was beyond welcoming. Simply put, there was joy in the air.
Later that day, at a reception at Thaiphoon restaurant in the Tower District, the celebration continued, as couples gathered to cut into wedding cake and toast champagne.
Surreal? Yes, to me it was. But as James and I slipped rings on each other’s fingers and spoke words to each other, I knew it was real. Tears filled both our eyes as we realized it was actually happening. After 12 years together, it was really happening.
Then we watched friends and others move through the process, tears filling the eyes of those around them, and milled through the people to hug and laugh and congratulate.
As an LGBT American, it’s easy to feel like a foreigner in this country. But on Tuesday we all moved one step closer to equality. We, LGBT Americans, and our victory on Tuesday, is what being American is all about.