This was first printed as an opinion in the Shelburne Falls and West County Independent newspaper…..At the end of March many of us were glued to news sources to get a glimpse into the proceedings of the United States Supreme Court as the Chief Justices heard testimony about the Defense of Marriage Act and how that law impacts married and unmarried gay citizens. (Full disclosure here: my wife Dorrie and I are definitely impacted by DOMA including not receiving 1100 laws/privileges given to heterosexual married folks!) Now we must wait until late June, when the Supreme Court is expected to deliver it’s opinion and we will know the effect on current law.
It is not only the Chief Justices, but also ordinary citizens who have both observations and opinions on issues of justice. It has been frequently stated that this is a sea-changing event in a sea-changing time. But I believe that it is important to look to history to see where we have come from to really appreciate where we are today. Many of us “of a certain age” never imagined these kinds of public conversations could happen— not only opinions being shared in the Supreme Court, but also in our families, in our churches, in newspapers, and on the street. This is because for so many years gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people lived not in the limelight but in the darkness of the closet. Some of us did not even recognize ourselves, never mind each other, and for the most part our sexual orientations were completely hidden. Because we so successfully and, from my point of view, tragically hid who we were, we were not seen or heard or even clearly imagined. We kept our opinions to ourselves because if we shared them, we might end up as martyrs.
This began to change with the 1969 Stonewall demonstrations that lead to the gay liberation movement. It was during this time that some GLBT people bravely began to put themselves on the line, coming out of the closet, knowing that the immediate result would be more violence and more social isolation. Because these courageous men and women braved hatred and ignorance in order to be seen, now, more than 30 years later, civil dialogue about sexual orientation is finally possible. And now, in 2013 we have this incredible moment in history where marriage equality is being openly discussed in the United States Supreme Court.
This is happening now, and not 30 years ago, because now more than ever, GLBT people are seen and heard. When previously hidden people are visible and personally known by our neighbors, there is the real possibility for thoughtful and respectful conversation and not behind-the-back comments, but in up-front conversations about justice, like those that we have been witnessing in these Supreme Court hearings. As visibility increases there is a greater chance for public conversation about human rights, not only for GLBT people but for other minority populations.
I have my own strong opinions about what I hope will be the opinions that the Justices will bring forward in June, and I imagine that other people also have strong opinions. But today my over-riding emotion is gratitude. I am beyond words full of gratitude for all the courageous men and women who, over these past decades, have literally stuck their necks out of the closet so that they could be seen in their full beauty and glory.