Throughout a lifetime, there are only so many times one can hope to see true societal change at a magnitude that people’s lives will forever be transformed. To actually feel the turning of the tide. Last Friday was one such day for our generation, the day the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the freedom to marry for all Americans.
Arkansas. Georgia. Kentucky. Louisiana. Michigan. Mississippi. Missouri. Nebraska. North Dakota. Ohio. South Dakota. Tennessee. Texas. The final 13 states that complete the marriage map that has been rapidly filling in over the past 11 years as more and more states legalized the freedom to marry. It is notable that June 26 will go down in history as the day the Obergefell v. Hodges case made the remaining state marriage bans unconstitutional, but the same day was also the 12th anniversary of the historic Lawrence v. Texas ruling, which outlawed the remaining state laws forbidding intimate relations between same-sex couples, and the second anniversary of the United States v. Windsor case, which struck down key portions of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. It is, indeed, an auspicious day.
Marriage came to Minnesota in the summer of 2013, and with it came a new way of thinking, especially for our kids. In 2014, two friends of my then-13-year-old daughter publicly came out as gay. There was no hesitation – they were excited to come out. They had told their families and now they told their friends, their teachers. They knew, because their state had told them so, that it was OK to be gay. That they would be able to marry the person they chose. Have children if they wanted. And proceed to live their lives, just like anyone else. So why worry? I texted a gay colleague and asked, could you even have imagined coming out at 13? He couldn’t imagine it.
Times are changing. We’ve made them change
Last year, my niece came out on Facebook. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Among a litany of posts about classwork, friends, and activities came the quick post of, “So in honor of National Coming Out Day, I wanted to tell you all that I’m gay.” 240 people liked that post, including her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Times are changing. We’ve made them change.
I started working in the marriage movement in Boston in 1996 – eight years before Massachusetts began marrying the first same-sex couples in the nation in 2004. It was a rough time for LGBT civil rights with both the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” policies having recently been put into place. Even still, my 25-year-old self was convinced that marriage was an issue that could have an end-game in my lifetime, and one that, as a straight woman, I might be able to offer a unique voice. In 1996, straight allies were few and far between, and throughout my 20s and 30s, when I showed up for internships, job interviews, board positions, and volunteer gigs, I was often met with a curious stare. That only fueled my belief that speaking out on an issue that I wouldn’t directly benefit from could be powerful. I wanted to help.
Over time, we talked about a lot of reasons that marriage matters. In Minnesota, Project 515 – the organization I ran throughout the marriage campaigns – identified 515 rights, benefits and obligations that marriage provides for couples and families. Minnesotans United for All Families, using the research of the national organization Freedom to Marry, homed in on the reality that, above all, marriage is about making a lifetime commitment to the person you love. About raising a family together. About taking care of each other. These are enduring values, not unique to heterosexual couples.
The last wedding of a same-sex couple that I attended before Minnesota’s law change was in Toronto. As we drove over the border, the agent asked us why we were traveling to Canada. To attend a wedding, we replied. Who is getting married, the agent asked? Our friends, Michael and Michael. To which she responded – Oh? They have the same name? Yes, we said. They have the same name. Not even a second glance or a double-take at the fact that they were clearly also the same gender. That will soon be the norm here too.
So much more to do
And yet, there is so much more to do. According to the Movement Advancement Project, even with marriage equality enacted nationwide, 52 percent of same-sex couples live in states that do not protect them from being unfairly fired or kicked out of their homes because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Fifty-seven percent of families live in states where LGBT children are not protected from discrimination in school, and 86 percent of LGBT-headed families live in states where their children could legally face discrimination in school because of who their parents are. As for the “T” in LGBT, only 18 states and the District of Columbia offer protections to transgender people. Amidst our joy must be recognition that marriage is incredibly important, and still, there is much work to do.
Today we celebrate. We celebrate the families who told their stories. We celebrate the plaintiffs who put their names on the line – starting with the very first couple to file a marriage lawsuit, Minnesota’s own Michael McConnell and Jack Baker. We celebrate the leaders and the heroes and the elected officials and the people who knocked on door after door after door, talking to voters about why marriage matters. And, we celebrate a Supreme Court that finally has granted the freedom to marry to all loving couples in our country. All deserve our thanks and our gratitude.
This turning of the tide and transformation of our world, while it’s for all of us, is that much more for the children, all of our children. Our kids will now only know a world where love is, simply, love. And it belongs to everyone. It is a tremendous gift, and today, I celebrate that most of all.
Congratulations to us all.
Ann Kaner-Roth is currently Minnesota’s Deputy Secretary of State. Formerly, she was the executive director of Project 515, board cochair of Minnesotans United, and part of the National Marriage Campaign team with the ACLU. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children.
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