So Goes the Nation

Let me take you back to May 15, 2008. It’s very nearly 10 am, and I am sitting in my statistics class, laptop open, trying desperately to catch a whiff of broadband signal. My professor is lecturing about regression, variance, means, modes and medians, but it all starts to blend together nonsensically, like a Peanuts-esque muted trombone. 9:59. One minute more until the California Supreme Court announces their verdict on same-sex marriage.

I began fighting for marriage equality in the 1990s at the age of 16. I remember standing on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol, holding up a sign that read, “Equality Begins At Home.” To my grandparents’ dismay, my image was broadcast on the front page of the B section of the local paper. “Our friends are going to see that,” my grandmother said. I replied, “Good, I hope that they do.”

It’s finally 10 am, and my eyes furiously scan the ruling I’ve managed to find with my tenuous internet connection. “Domestic partnerships are second-class marriage.” In one fell swoop, I bag my laptop, get out of my seat and bolt for the door. In 20 minutes I’ve called at least 40 people. Can this really be happening? Is the curse broken? They say that California is a bell-weather state. As California goes, so goes the nation. Massachusetts broke the marriage barrier first, but now we finally have it!

The feeling was a surge of adrenaline and endorphins, fogging my head in a stupor of shock and removing long-endured disappointment. It was like a first kiss from an unrequited love. A kiss from a culture promised to us–but until that moment not bestowed.

A spirit of celebration engulfed California’s LGBT community following the ruling, and my local humanist group, the Humanist Association of San Diego, was eager to join in the revelry. The San Diego LGBT Pride Parade was coming up, and earlier in the year my group had decided to stage an act of protest during the parade. We were going to find a good-looking couple and perform a mock wedding ceremony for them along the parade route in opposition to marriage apartheid. We had everything worked out. But now, with the new ruling, we could turn our act of defiance into an act of celebration.

The day of the Pride Parade tends to be one of the hottest in San Diego. It’s also day in which the San Diego Police Department brings out their Equine Division to stand as a barrier between those of us participating in the parade and those protesting the parade, holding life-sized wooden crosses and courteously giving us advice on our afterlife itineraries. And, unfortunately for the almost exclusively Christian protestors, it’s a day that the police horse brigade–which turns their backs to our detractors–elects not to don their horses with diapers. How metaphoric!

For our protest-turned-celebration, the Humanist Association of San Diego found two women who wanted to share their love and union–and did so with the largest unsuspecting wedding guest list in San Diego history. 165,000 guests, to be specific. As the Humanist Celebrant officiating over the union, I had to perform this ceremony at least four times in order for the entire three miles of parade-goers to witness the extraordinary event. It was the first legal ceremony I performed in California, but not the last. While same-sex marriage was still legal in the state, I continued to perform several more weddings. But, sadly, those days did come to a close.

From the perspective of a gay man and a wedding officiate, it annoys me that people who are neither are so vehement to destroy and restrict access to something which they themselves have no direct connection. But, unfortunately, too many Californians proceeded to vote to do just that on Election Day 2008. With the passage of Proposition 8, we lost equal marriage by a small margin. A flood of Mormon and Catholic donations built an insurmountable resistance, and thus, even before the sticker-shock of full civil equality wore off, we lost it. We lost it to the cacophony of pearl-clutching lunatics, ranting about protecting children.

This exclusion is not like being the last person picked on the team; rather, it’s like not being allowed to play at all. And then, when you assert your rights, you are called hateful. You’re accused of removing someone else’s rights, destroying their institution, harming their children. Their meaning was clear: we are not full Americans; we are perverts; we are misguided miscreants who do not deserve a full shot at the American dream.

Of course, they are the ones who are wrong. Jim Crow marriage is unfair, unethical and quite frankly offensive. Yet, it persists. And even where rights have been won for same-sex couples, powerful forces are working to scale them back. Forces that, in a rational and secular society, should have no business imposing their will onto others. Can you for one second imagine what it feels like to be told repeatedly that you aren’t good enough by people who believe that this world is six thousand years old, wished into existence by a divine being–a being who promised his followers the only real estate in the Mideast without a drop of oil and who only speaks through his clergy when it is politically pertinent? The lunacy of implementing social policy with their pathology as the driving force is enough to make you go mad!

I know what Washingtonians are experiencing right now. I know the elation, the euphoria. But I also know the angst that the LGBT community is experiencing in places such as Maine, where a same-sex marriage law was recently repealed. As humanists, it is our luxury to celebrate our hard-earned wins, but it is our obligation to stand up and fight back where there is work still left to be done. As coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s LGBT Humanist Council, I congratulate Washington, DC for their recent achievement in expelling outdated and unnecessary divisions which hurt our human family. But I also urge the humanist community to keep fighting against affronts to dignity and reason where they still exist. Together we can put human needs and human happiness above superstition everywhere.