Pardon my jubilation, but yesterday was a momentous day for the citizens included in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that encompasses Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina which has been my second home state for more than forty years. A majority of two of the three judges on that court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages, and I could hear the echoes of the voices of Harvey Milk in San Francisco and the Stonewall Rebellion activists in New York City as they chanted and chorused in celebration with their sisters and brothers in the South.
For everything, turn, turn, turn…there is a season, turn, turn. turn…and a time for every purpose under heaven. Thank you, Pete Seeger, and the book of Ecclesiastes, too.
On Election Night in November, 2006 Teresa and I joined a few other pitiful looking people at a reception sponsored by the South Carolina Equality Coalition in a small meeting room at the Town House Motel on Gervais Street in Columbia. When I say few, I do mean few; and when I say pitiful looking, I do mean the faces were long and the expressions grim. I also remember the food was sparse and drinks were served from a cash bar. We’re talking bare bones reception because the coffers were bare.
The night was a disaster for the GLBTQ community in South Carolina. Despite the efforts of the members of the fledgling SCEC organization formed four years earlier, the tireless dedication of the supporters of the South Carolina Pride Movement and the Alliance for Full Acceptance and an outpouring of financial contributions from individuals and other groups around the entire state – despite four years of hard work by the leaders of this social justice movement – 78% of the voters of the state of South Carolina passed a constitutional amendment that day and declared “a marriage between one man and one woman is the only lawful domestic union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Our freedom was not won a century ago, it is not won today, but some small part of it is in our hands, and we are marching no longer by ones and twos but in legions of thousands, convinced now it cannot be denied by human force.” That night in the Town House Motel I felt we were marching by ones and twos as I looked around the small room that emptied quickly. I thought the battle for marriage equality would never be won in my lifetime.
As those battles were fought and won in other states by popular votes, by state legislatures and by court decisions, I knew we were now marching by legions of thousands but still felt my home states of Texas and South Carolina would surely be the last ones standing against me. The ruling yesterday proved I was wrong, and I have no words to express my joy.
Circuit Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote in the ruling that “Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life…and the choice of whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”
I know the movement has many heroes to thank for the cultural changes that fostered the political victories of the past thirty years. From Will and Grace to Brokeback Mountain to The Indigo Girls to We Are Fam-i-ly to the countless other pioneers that made us laugh and cry and sing together – those who made it easier to recognize each other for who we are. I am grateful for these national treasures that elevated our consciousness and for the local leaders who continued the outrageous acts and everyday rebellions that Gloria Steinem believed to be the key to grassroots organizing.
Later this evening Teresa and I will go to the Capital Club which is a gay bar in downtown Columbia on Gervais Street. It’s been in business for as long as I can remember. The same, more mature, South Carolina Equality Coalition is hosting a spontaneous celebration because of the court’s ruling yesterday. I’m not sure how many people will be able to come on short notice, but I fully expect the expressions on their faces to be exuberant.
I know mine will be.