As a poetic companion to Justice Kennedy's majority opinion for marriage equality for SCOTUS today, read Andrew Sullivan's piece on the momentous ruling. A recollection, an appreciation, a victory lap, beautiful throughout.
In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.
I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines. Movements do not move relentlessly forward; progress comes and, just as swiftly, goes. For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.
But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens.
We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today.
I turned on CNN in my hotel here in Italy after dinner tonight. I've watched maybe 15 minutes of television this entire month I've been traveling, distance and the preoccupations of exploring a foreign country have a way of making all news seem too local, but tonight I happened to catch Obama in the midst of his eulogy in Charleston, live. I will always stop to watch Obama speak in a black church, just to hear the cadence of the call and response, the ebb and flow, the dialogue of a communal consciousness.
In his speech, a remarkable and moving one, he referenced Marilynne Robinson's phrase “reservoir of goodness.” If we could just tap into that reservoir of goodness, he both urged and wondered, if we could just tap into that grace, what might be possible?
On this day of all days, the answer seemed to be: more than even Andrew Sullivan expected in his lifetime.