Ten years. It took less than that for equal marriage to go from a quote-unquote social experiment, born here in the liberty-loving labs of Massachusetts, to a federally recognized institution (for some) with last week’s repeal of DOMA. During that journey, each of the thirteen states to adopt equal marriage, including all six New England states, marked another forward step in shifting political and popular attitudes toward gay rights. These staggered developments measured the growth of a movement, like notches in a doorway measures a maturing child.
Sometimes, and I wonder if you do the same, I think back on where I was when news came of each New England success – and how each milestone marked something in my own development too.
I remember Massachusetts. I was 21, and watched news of the Goodridge decision on the living room television in my first apartment. It was an exciting time to be a college Sociology major, because history was being made right on our State House. Sometimes for coursework and sometimes for my own edification about how many horrible people there are in the world, I’d go down there to observe, take notes and snap photos - which I could not yet post on Facebook. (It was also an exciting time to be a drinker of legal age, because sometimes I really needed a drink afterward.) The Heights, the Boston College student newspaper, was serving as a useful way to take the temperature of your average young adult’s attitude toward the issue. Anti-gay marriage students were becoming perceived like non-drinkers at a house party: protected from outright scorn by some veneer of “piety,” but a rapidly endangered species generally subject to eye rolls. (The school’s nutty conservative rag, compiled by students desperate for their emotionally distant parents’ approval, The Observer, showed a different story.)
I remember Connecticut. I was 26, and was walking down Newbury Street when I saw the news come up on my Blackberry. (Ugh. The Blackberry, that is. Not the news.)
The courts had ordered that Connecticut’s civil unions were not enough, and marriage had made it to the Constitution state. If I’m to be honest, I think for a moment I almost felt a twinge of umbrage that my home state was no longer special: no longer small but mighty Massachusetts shining bright and alone on the map, like a beacon of where smart people live. That was quickly replaced with gratitude that we were no longer the exception, but the beginning of what could be a rule. Plus, Connecticut was the home state of my then-boyfriend of four years. Though we weren’t planning a wedding, the knowledge that we could, in either of our homes, made something feel complete to me. I hoped soon other couples would feel that way too.
I remember Vermont and New Hampshire, who gave the green light to equal marriage within two spring months of each other. I was 26, still. I found out in the newsroom at Bay Windows, where we followed every development, at every level of government, into the wee hours—to make sure everything was as up-to-date for the weekly printer deadline as possible. (This was getting harder, in a world where websites could update themselves like they were flipping a light switch.) At the time I was Bay Windows’ arts editor, which meant most of my time was spent interviewing singer-songwriters about their tortured new album (and its “more overtly political direction”), and watching screeners of countless “coming out” movies with (usually) horrible scripts but great insight to the filmmakers’ unresolved adolescent issues; oh, and often talking to really inspiring, creative people too. I believe the arts are as vital as politics when it comes to influencing public opinion on gay rights. (Two words: Will. Grace.) But small papers with small staff beget big job descriptions, so I frequently did some pinch-hitting for news stories too. There was an amazing camaraderie that existed with our particular team, and the later the hour – as we waited for a decision to come down, or for an errant freelancer to finally file a story – the more punch-drunk and slaphappy we became. I would entertain my then-editor (and fellow Madge fan) Laura Kiritsy with enthusiastic high kicks to Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” Our then-pink haired designer, beloved token straight girl Julie Walker Palmer, might Photoshop a wire photo of Sarah Palin into something offensive and obscene. Writer Ethan Jacobs, when he wasn’t meticulously crafting his next awesome story, was always serving dry-humor-adorable realness. And Mark Valentine made the clocks run on time (or close to), pontificating on politics and Buffy the Vampire Slayer from his corner desk—when he wasn’t outside counting down the hours with cigarettes. We were safe and happy in our news bunker, waiting to see if a rights-squashing meteor would strike or narrowly miss. It was fun, and I sometimes miss that dynamic and spirit of solidarity. Even if I don’t the threats it was designed to protect us from.
I remember Maine. I was 26 when a bill allowing equal marriage was made law; I was 27 when it was rejected by voters; and I was 30 when it returned to the ballot and was approved, making Maine one of three states to grant equal marriage by popular vote. If that cultural whiplash doesn’t say something about the exponentially rapid turnarounds on the marriage issue, I don’t know what does. It also told me a lot about how much news I was getting through Facebook.
I remember Rhode Island. I was 30 when, just two months ago, it became the final New England state to approve equal marriage law. (It becomes effective August 1.) My Twitter timeline exploded with the news, all complemented with celebratory commentary. There were no outliers, no conscientious objectors, and no “haters” – unless I went looking for them. It was the day’s biggest non-news.
Then DOMA. In less than a decade, the world is changed. (Though there’s plenty more to do.) My thanks to those older than me (and hey, many activists my age too) who birthed, nurtured and raised a movement from its infancy to a fully-formed reality now striding forward, with confidence, on Supreme Court-supported legs. Sometimes it was exhausting, but every step brought reward – to the community, to me.
I can only wonder where they’ll take us, and me, ten more years down the line.