It's 10pm Eastern. I decided to post this map tonight as a kind of celebration. This evening legal same sex civil marriage came to my home state of North Carolina. I had long hoped but not necessarily believed this would happen in my lifetime. I read tonight that marriage licenses were already being issued in Asheville. Such great news!
I suspect that like women getting to vote and the racial and gender integration of schools in the 20th century, the effects of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples being able to legally marry (and divorce) will have effects both profound and almost unnoticeable. The sky will not fall as some fear, but this huge and yet simple change will transform the lives of people like me...and you. One can hide a lover; but not a spouse. No more of this uncomfortableness of not knowing what to call a lesbian/gay friend's partner. It will be a simple "spouse" or "wife" or "husband". And that will take some getting used to for me...but already comes easier and with a smile to me. I suspect soon it will be easier for most of us.
Garth Brooks once said, he felt that one day his children would ask incredulously why gay people were ever banned from marrying in the first place. I know that one day some wide-eyed college student will ask to interview me when I am older and ask about those terrible dark days of the past. How could that ever have been?
Sure. A few people will still in time point to homosexuality as a sin, but I suspect many will interpret their Bibles differently in a generation the same way people do today over slavery, tattoos, pork, divorce, pre-marital sex, adultery, and the Biblical standard of women submitting to men. I suppose if the good Christian people of Louisiana can see in their hearts to re-elect David Vitter for cheating on his wife Wendy with prostitutes he paid to have sex with him while he wore diapers, then maybe they won't mind if Ellen or Anderson Cooper get hitched for taxes and insurance and love and all that.
It's a wonderful, warm night in Georgia as I scan the horizon for marriage coming down in time from those beautiful Appalachian Mountains to these pine forests. And I pause in this moment of budding equality to also remember something my friend Kate once lamented: that the radical gay agenda of free love and equality from the 1960s has over time matured into a very American and middle class dream. Indeed, the radical gay agenda that gives some such heartburn has for many years been the dream to marry ...and have a stable job ...and serve our country in the military ...and go to church ...and to maybe even have kids...honestly, openly, and without fear of violence and hate. And slowly it seems to me -but at lightening speed compared to the struggles our country has dealt with on gender, race, and religion- this American dream is blooming for us.
And it truly is a dream for us all. The struggles for women's rights continues to teach us that leadership and genius is not defined by genitals; that pink and pretty can fly or build or design an aircraft as well as blue and puppy dog tails. The galaxy is bigger and better for having both Captain Janeways and Captain Kirks.
The same is true for the still on-going struggle for racial equality. These struggles open our minds like an x-ray that we are all pretty much the same under these various hues of dermis. We all love and cry and bleed and share a common humanity. When we all have access to opportunity, our country is enriched for all by the incredible genius that hides among some of us regardless of our different skin colors and eye shapes and noses big or small; hooked, straight, or flat.
I once read an article by an opponent of gay rights who argued that while the women's and African American civil rights movements had brought something to all Americans, gay rights in his opinion were just a selfish affair without any lesson for us all. I think he was wrong. This movement has been about being a small, fearful group of Americans who are willing to be visible and out for the sake of dignity and family. For all the labeling of homophobes under the banner of 'family values', gay rights has always been about enlarging our public and private circle of family; as if we were jointly making an America-sized Grinch's heart 2 sizes bigger. I've heard so many times over the years people say they love their daughter or their nephew or liked that nice lesbian couple across the street, but they just didn't approve -mind you- of homosexuality. But as always happens -isn't this so true?- love wins out. From the OH Republican senator who endorses same sex marriage because he loves his son to the single mom who says she understands because her little family also doesn't fit the mold of the perfect family in all those ads, gay rights has won because individuals and advocacy groups have come out again and again -and again just for measure- to show that families come in many configurations but they all are powered by the same desire to cherish and protect the ones you love.
And so, America's understanding of love and family has grown. Lesbian and gay couples who have stood together -sometimes for decades- through violence, disease, derision (I hear those jokes too), and discrimination have held up a mirror to America's bridal industry and ultimately destructive focus on a single day's wedding ceremony to say "hey, marriage is the long years of standing up for each other and dealing with failures and successes...and all the responsibilities of marriage for decades before there will be any public benefits". Without even a clear word to describe this other person in our lives, lesbian and gay Americans have been saying yes to the relationship long before there was even the dream of saying yes to the dress. It's about hospital visitation and taxes and immigration and yes even divorce...and all the ups and downs of a real relationship beyond bouquets and layer cakes. And hopefully America has learned that marriage and family are about the long years of relationship and the love ...but it will be nice for gay folk to have some cake at last.
And that is a good thing.