The sunlit path

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.

MarriageEqualityMap GIF4

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?

Visibility.

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.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in life, politics, USA, video. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The sunlit path

  1. Alma says:

    This is the greatest thing I’ve read in ages!!! (Well, asides from a certain manuscript maybe… 😉 ) I’m so happy for you, and for the world in general! ❤

  2. My husband and I (I’m a woman, since it’s not obvious from my name) have watched all of this from California with great joy. We were extremely active in the fight against Proposition 8, and devastated (though not shocked, given the tactics of the other side) when Prop. 8 passed. In retrospect, that loss was probably a good thing, since it startled a lot of people out of their complacency (at least here in CA).

    I’m still a bit worried about what will happen when the Supreme Court is faced with the question of same-sex marriage in a way that requires them to rule directly on the issue (if you know what I mean), but I am much less worried than I used to be. The tides are turning!

    • oregon expat says:

      Irith, I agree with you. I was also devastated when Prop 8 passed (and then outraged when I learned that it was actually bankrolled by the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church — aren’t churches supposed to stay out of politics or else give up their tax exempt status?) But the aftereffects of that loss were universally good. Not only did it galvanize the campaigners, and teach them what NOT to do, but it also made a lot of folks see gay people differently. Instead of upstarts demanding “special rights,” we became a visible group of underdogs who had just been crushed by the distaste and sometimes outright bigotry of the majority. Americans can almost always be counted on to root for the underdog.

      • The trend towards groups who don’t even live in the state having a significant role in political contests is depressing, and I put the blame squarely on the Supreme Court. The churches were able to out-fund-raise us with ease, alas. I still feel sick when I remember some of the TV ads they ran.

        By the way, while I saw the galvanization in action, I hadn’t thought before of the underdog element — excellent point!
        🙂

  3. Power Wench says:

    Excellent piece of writing! I never thought on the day of your wedding that the changes would come so swiftly.
    Of course, there are still all those Bible Belt states on the map – leaves me wondering what the map will look like in another year or two. Will they also make the shift?

    • oregon expat says:

      I recently learned that while interracial marriage became the law of the federal land in 1967, many states held out as long as they could, with the last two states not giving up until 1998 and 2000 (!!). They were South Carolina and Alabama respectively. My guess is that those Bible Belt states won’t shift until they’re forced to. However, they may be forced to earlier than they want, as corporations decide not to locate there (because qualified gay personnel will refuse to move to a state where they have no rights, and straight personnel will prefer to locate in a more progressive state), intelligent and educated gay natives move away as soon as they can, and the general drain of both revenue and human resources starts to impact the bottom line.

      And I never thought on my wedding day that things would shift so quickly, either! Just think, if Maria and I had held out for six more years, we could have gotten married in Oregon. 😉

      • Just a clarification: Interracial marriage has been legal in South Caroline and Alabama since the Loving vs. Virginia decision by the Supreme Court. Those two states did not take the (now defunct) laws forbidding it off their books until many years later, though.

  4. M. says:

    Excellent news. EU also follows the trend. I hope eight countries among 28 that do not support gay marriage yet, will chage their law soon. Including my country.

    • oregon expat says:

      I wish the same. It’s interesting to look at a map of Europe and see the equal marriage support starting strong in the west and dimming as it goes east. The geopolitical influence is very clear.

  5. Ana_ñ says:

    I have been so preoccupied lately with other, increasing, inequalities around me that I haven’t realized the change was that spectacular!
    It makes me extremely happy, and also gives me hope – yes, we will fix those others injustices as well. 🙂

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