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Building El Dorado: A Decade of Love Fuels My Drive to Achieve Marriage Equality

Next week is our anniversary. That is, one of our anniversaries. I’ve joked that one of the rare upsides to the lack of marriage equality is that unlike our opposite-sex counterparts, for whom the wedding anniversary is the focus for commemorating the relationship, same-sex couples can celebrate a number of mini anniversaries. For example, Jeff and I mark, to varying degrees, the dates of registering our domestic partnership, of becoming engaged, and of our commitment ceremony, among other milestones. But next week’s anniversary is particularly special. Ten years ago, we met in person for the very first time. Our story is the modern trope of meeting online, but with a traditional, almost Victorian, twist: our mutual discovery and earliest exchanges took place not in a chat room, on a dating site, or via Grindr or Scruff, but through the written word. Back when we were accustomed to writing more than 140 characters at a time, Jeff and I were avid bloggers, and we first became acquainted through our blog posts. Reading led to commenting, commenting led to light flirting, and we eventually decided that having so much in common, and living in the same city, we should meet face-to-face. Neither of us called that first planned get-together a “date,” nor going into it did we consciously think of it as such. But looking back even just a few weeks later, it was quite clear that what beforehand had been presumed to be just a casual meeting of two online friends had transformed – over the course of dinner, a concert, and hours of talking over coffee afterwards –into something else entirely, the beginning of a shared life. Three months later we essentially were living together in Virginia; three years after that we drove cross-country to our new home near San Francisco where Jeff had grown up. For Jeff, California was a homecoming. For me, it was a mythical El Dorado, but with streets paved not of gold but of tolerance and acceptance. Our California dream was that we’d marry and grow old together here. Jeff and I left Virginia the very year its electorate passed a constitutional amendment banning any legal recognition for same-sex couples. But the lopsided result of that anti-gay initiative surprised no one, especially given Virginia’s frequent and ongoing flirtation with anti-gay policies and politicians, not to mention its infamous history as the state that took its bid to ban interracial couples from marrying all the way to the Supreme Court. California, though, was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be better. Perhaps that’s why Prop 8 felt like such a bitterly deep and intensely personal betrayal to so many of us. So if California was my El Dorado, Prop 8 may have been rather my Pearl Harbor, that moment when I realized I could no longer sit on the sidelines. I might not have found El Dorado, but I could at least start laying down a few gold paving stones myself. Though I’d been a steady if somewhat quiet advocate for LGBT equality previously, beginning in 2008 I embraced a much more outspoken, public and now nearly full-time advocacy. Yet I eagerly wait for the day I help put myself out of a job. I expect to see that day in my own lifetime, as political trends and polls clearly show it’s coming, sooner perhaps than any of us expected even just a few years ago. After the first same-sex couples began legally marrying in Massachusetts in 2004, it was four years before another state joined the exclusive club. It took another four years to bring the total to six, plus the District of Columbia, by mid-2012. Just since last fall, though, that number already has doubled. There will be occasional heartbreaks and setbacks along the way, of course, as we witnessed in North Carolina last year and in Illinois just this past month. But it’s telling that the most recent stumbling block in Illinois, as surprising and disappointing as it was at the time, felt less like a loss and more like only a delay. And it’s not just wishful thinking on our part. According to the most recent Pew Research polling, even nearly 60% of those who oppose marriage equality nevertheless agree that it is, in fact, inevitable. To be sure, inevitability doesn’t imply speed, and the recent rate of success isn’t sustainable purely as a practical matter. Of the remaining states without civil marriage equality, more than 30 have constitutional bans. Reversing such bans can be a difficult, often multi-year process, even with the political will and initiative to do so. Nevada, for example, has begun the process, but it will be late 2016 before the freedom to marry may be recognized there, even if all goes smoothly. Barring a Supreme Court decision finding all state marriage equality bans unconstitutional (mirroring 1967’s Loving v. Virginia decision overturning anti-miscegenation laws), then, such bans will remain the law, in some states, for a while yet. Such a sweeping decision for nationwide equality seems, to me, extremely unlikely from this Court, at least for now. Nevertheless, I’m honestly optimistic about the possibilities for both Prop 8 and DOMA to be struck down, even if only procedurally. Regardless, though, of how the Supreme Court ultimately rules this month in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases, I expect our community to respond publicly and in great numbers, either in celebration or in protest. Marriage Equality USA is a coordinating member of the United for Marriage coalition dedicated to organizing and publicizing Decision Day events across the country. for the national events registry, for information about local actions, including a planned community gathering in the Castro beginning 5:30 p.m. the day the Court releases its opinions, which could happen anytime this month with no advance notice, though the most likely dates are June 17th, 20th, 24th, or 27th. When Rhode Island became the tenth state to recognize the freedom to marry just six weeks ago, I wrote about the psychological power of the number ten: “Ten states. ‘Ten’ has a significance that goes beyond just being the number that follows nine. Ten has weight. It’s double-digits, it’s two full hands, it’s a number we count by. There are powers of – and a power in – ten.” A period of ten consecutive years even has its own name, and we romanticize such decades as constituting a significant unit of shared history: “the gay nineties,” “the roaring twenties,” “80s music,” and even one’s own twenties or thirties. One decade after our first date, Jeff and I are about to celebrate a significant milestone of our own shared history. At the same time we’re awaiting a critical landmark decision in our community’s history. And the two are ineluctably intertwined. Although the anniversary of our first date is a meaningful one to commemorate, there’s another we’re even more eager to be able to celebrate: our really-truly-legally-married wedding date. We think this September would be a lovely time to say “I do.” And the only gift we want or need is for the Supreme Court to say, “You may.” By  MEUSA Social Media Director Thom Watson An edited version of this article originally appeared in SF Bay Times, July 11, 2013:

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