By Kirsten Berzon
Déjà vu. Another early morning armed with my cup of coffee and the refresh button. The SCOTUS blog had become a source of potential elation or heartache over those long weeks in June, 2013. You might not know what SCOTUS is. I didn’t either. It's the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States, AKA the nine people who would either uphold my second class citizenship or grant me equal justice under the law. All of the marriage equality advocates I knew were experiencing the same emotional roller coaster that June.
On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, the wait was finally over. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to decide the Prop 8 case based on standing, effectively bringing marriage equality back to California. In the Defense of Marriage Act case, the court granted federal marriage benefits to those who already enjoyed the state benefits of marriage, if they were lucky enough to live in marriage equality states.
The second I saw the decisions come across my computer screen, I burst into tears. I think I cried for at least five minutes. Exclamations of “LOVE WON” lit up my Facebook wall. After fighting for marriage equality with Marriage Equality USA for the past seven years, I once again lived in an equality state and my wife and I would also enjoy the 1,183 federal benefits of marriage. While we hoped for this incredible victory, we had experienced many defeats over the years and had learned not to be too optimistic, too soon. The pain of Prop 8’s passage and its aftermath was very real. And now, nearly 5 years later, the relief was palpable.
There was no time to take it in though. We had an event to plan! With several “this could be the day” behind us, today was actually what was dubbed by marriage equality advocates nationwide as the Day of Decision. A small group of Bay Area Marriage Equality USA volunteers, longtime LGBT activists, LGBT community members, and straight allies had been planning Day of Decision for weeks. I use the word “planning” somewhat loosely because how can you plan an event for tens of thousands of people in San Francisco’s Castro District without knowing when it will be? But somehow, we did it!
As soon as we heard the news early that Wednesday morning, we went into action. We had to rent the truck which would serve as our event stage. There was extensive coordination with the San Francisco Police Department regarding street closures, blockades, and parking. We had to activate the evening’s speakers who had been on standby for weeks and tell them that today was the day. We had to get the word out so people would come to Castro and Market that evening for the celebration. The “to do” list was long, but our small but mighty crew was ready to tackle it.
Even though we already had designated media spokespeople, some of us went through training so multiple members of the team could respond to the media onslaught. Others put up “No Parking” signs on meters up and down Castro Street. Yet others talked with local businesses so they would be prepared for thousands of celebrants who would descend upon the neighborhood that evening. The feeling of unbridled joy that afternoon in the Castro is still something I remember vividly to this day. There was freedom in the air as strangers hugged, horns honked, and rainbow flags waved.
The San Francisco 2013 Day of Decision event drew an estimated 30,000 people, packed into a very few blocks along Castro Street and the surrounding side streets. Two stages. Dozens of speakers. Live music performances. Clergy from the Coalition of Welcoming Congregations. Pioneers in the LGBT civil rights movement. They were all there. Standing on the stage, looking down Castro Street at the jubilant crowd, I was overwhelmed and incredibly proud. Our little ragtag group of dedicated volunteers had made this happen.
When I think about that day, as well as my tenure as a marriage equality activist, I keep coming back to the famous quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” As we continue to strive toward a day when every LGBT person not only enjoys the benefits of marriage, but also the joy of full lived equality in all aspects of their lives, I will always be proud of the powerful community of Marriage Equality USA Love Warriors with whom I worked over the years.
Top Photo - Day of Decision as seen from the Castro Theater marquee, San Francisco. Credit: James McClendon
Bottom Photo - Kirsten and her wife Kathy. Credit: Fidel Lirio