Watching my home nation undergo a tidal change in social understanding has been an amazing experience. There are very few times in our lives when we can know, without a doubt, that we are watching history in the making.
When Portugal recognized my marriage, I knew that returning to Oregon to live was never going to be an option—not so long as our marriage would be legally stripped away from us the moment we crossed the US border. Besides being a covenant, an oath of love and loyalty, and a socially recognized family unit, a marriage is also a bundle of legal protections. Those protections are especially important for a bi-national marriage, when one spouse can be summarily deported for overstaying a visa. And the US doesn’t issue visas or residency cards for “roommates” of citizens.
I’d be a careless and irresponsible spouse if I put my family in danger. So home was not an option.
Then the Windsor decision happened, and the US Supreme Court declared that the federal government could not treat state-sanctioned heterosexual marriages any differently from state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. There was a lot of rejoicing that day in June 2013, because those of us watching the court system knew that United States v. Windsor was going to have an enormous effect on state laws.
But even in my wildest dreams, I did not think that effect would be the tsunami it has been. There was a time when I could rattle off from memory the names of states with equal marriage rights. I can’t do that now. There are already 32 of them, nearly half of which happened just this year. (One of those was Oregon, on 19 May.) In five more states, the courts have declared the state law preventing issuance of same-sex marriage certificates to be unconstitutional, but then issued a stay on the ruling pending appeal. It is a near-certainty that those appeals will be decided in favor of equal rights.
It is now easier to remember the states that don’t have equal marriage rights than the states that do.
This gif from the Huffington Post is a good illustration of how the gradual build-up went kapow in late 2013 and 2014.
Nor is it just legal change. By 2010, more Americans supported equal marriage rights than opposed them. In a single decade, the nation shifted. What made the difference?
I remember a time when the common agreement was, “If every gay person suddenly turned blue, everyone in the US would realize they’ve been living with, working with, or attending church with someone who is gay. And that those people are perfectly ordinary and normal. Wouldn’t that change everything?”
We haven’t literally turned blue, but we have been coming out in greater and greater numbers. It’s amazing how extremely conservative politicians suddenly modify their stance on equal marriage rights when they find out their own son or daughter is gay. Denying rights to a vilified “other” is one thing; denying them to someone you love is something else. And the impact of the high-profile announcements cannot be overstated. Most of us can only affect our small circle of family, friends and acquaintances, but some individuals can affect millions.
That’s why announcements such as Tim Cook’s are so important. As Tim wrote today in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
…if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.
Kudos to Tim for turning blue, and for leaving us with this beautiful ending to his article:
We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.
As for me, home is now an option. Of course, I’ve made Portugal my home after all these years, so I don’t plan to return to Oregon any time soon, but just knowing I can makes all the difference. When I learned that I could take my family back to Oregon if we wanted to go, I had a good cry and a large gin and tonic.