I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about what I wanted to write about after the momentous events of June 26, and as all these thoughts bounced around in the metaphorical tumble dryer of my just-waking mind, I found myself coming back to that old Pete Seeger tune, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (The better known version is by The Byrds, but this one with Pete and Judy Collins is magical. Skip ahead to about a minute in.)
I was struck how much of the nonsense already being spouted by the Internet blowhards could be taken down by the song’s first line: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Seeger, of course, did not write that line. That’s the Book of Ecclesiastes. The whole song, in fact, is taken verbatim from the Bible and what I love about it is that it’s essentially about change being the only constant in the human condition. There is a purpose to everything.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Less esoterically, it’s refreshing to see that the words carved above the doors to the Supreme Court, the central tenet of our nation — Equal Justice Under Law — has not, in fact, been lost or corrupted. We are all equal. We all, no matter what part of America you live in, woke up this morning in a more perfect Union.
THE HATE-MONGERS COMETH
You will hear today, tomorrow, next week, two weeks from Thursday, a year-and-a-half from now, and in 2025, how the “activist court” forced this decision on Americans and how it is such a violation of someone’s religious liberties. Well, friends and cousins, here’s the real truth: They are just flat wrong.
To tell me that my relationship is less than theirs is wrong. To tell me who I can and cannot love is wrong, To tell me I am not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities that are afforded to other citizens is wrong. To tell me that my ability to pledge myself to and join my life with someone of the same gender in some way violates their religious freedom is not only wrong, it’s just stupid.
And here’s why: no one says you have to like marriage equality. No one says you have to get married to someone of the same gender or witness a marriage of two people of the same gender or attend a church where they marry people of the same gender. If you don’t like it, don’t be involved. But …. don’t you dare tell me that I can’t have the exact same things that you can have. Don’t you dare tell me that I cannot have the same protections, the same tax status, the same medical and legal rights. Don’t you dare tell me that I am somehow less than. Don’t you dare tell me that my love does not matter in the same ways that yours does. And don’t you dare tell me that religion makes your prejudice acceptable. Not in 2015. Not in the United States of America.
But they will dare, campers. They will.
June 26 was not the culmination of the fight; June 26 was the beginning of the next phase. Those of you in states where there are no legal protections for same-sex couples may find yourselves blissfully married on Sunday only to find yourself summarily fired on Monday. Discrimination will come but it will be less overt. There will be a lot more of those “religious freedom acts” pushed through legislatures and more pulpit-pounding from the Right, reminding us (wrongly) that we are undermining the Christian values that America was founded on. [Note: there weren’t any.] And a mountain of blather about how laws are supposed to be made in the legislatures and not in the courts.
THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY
This, in particular, galls me because it just proves how ignorant so many people are about our system. (Including, given his bizarre and completely unhinged opinion in Obergefell, Mr. Justice Scalia.) I am fairly confident that I am among the last generation who learned civics in school. If you don’t want to read up on Article III of the Constitution or learn a bit more about the importance of Marbury v. Madison in establishing judicial review and what that means, perhaps a cartoon describing checks and balances is in order. (This happens to get my vote for the worst Schoolhouse Rock song of the 70s!) You’re going to hear a lot about judicial overreach in the coming days; gird your loins.
Another thing that struck me today was one of my favorite lines from Dan Savage about America, the so-called land of the free and the home of the brave, always being last with the freedom and the bravery. It’s pithy; that’s why it gets quoted. It’s also pretty much on the mark. A great thing happened in the United States yesterday, but we did not lead the world. We are the 25th nation to allow equal marriage.
While there are those — on some days I am among them — who will revel in the quickness that we have arrived at marriage equality, we have been attempting to cast off the shackles of our terrible history of inequality since before the dawn of the republic. This particular issue has come to the fore quickly, but it’s been a Sisyphean struggle over centuries to mete out rights to all of our citizens. I can draw a direct line through the centuries to show how all of our civil rights struggles have been the same struggle. The list of people involved looks something like this:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
A. Philip Randolph
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon
Mildred & Richard Loving
the Stonewall Rioters
Richard Baker & Michael McConnell
Edith Windsor & Thea Spyer
Jim Obergefell & John Arthur
This is an imperfect list, but it shows, I think, how fundamentally important it is to stand up and have your voice heard and counted. I am also struck by how few women are on this list; that’s bothersome. We need to do better. And we will.
It does, after all, get better, but dear God, what a hard slog it is sometimes to get to that better place. We’ve been trying since John Winthrop said to the Massachusetts Bay colonists in 1630, “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Thinking about Pete Seeger, made me also think of the penultimate verse of the song that became and remains the anthem of the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome:”
The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free,
The truth shall make us free someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
The truth shall make us free someday.
Truth, justice and the American way, the hackneyed old saw goes. Maybe it’s not just a catchphrase for superheroes anymore. Maybe that’s why, out of all of the intensely beautiful images I saw and speeches and cheering I heard Friday, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington singing the National Anthem on the steps of the Supreme Court is the one that made me weep. It made me proud to be an American in a way that has been strangely foreign to me. Until now.