Marc Solomon

Our Constitution Is a Living, Breathing Document

Filed By Marc Solomon | August 04, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: California, gay marriage, marriage equality, Prop 8, Prop. 8, same-sex marriage

Reading the words of Judge Walker moves me deeply. Once again, our constitution is a living, breathing document, and today it protects our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, just as it should protect all people and peoples when the government treats them unequally because of who they are.

Our community should take great pride in this ruling--all of us. For while the ruling is the direct result of a wise judge and a skilled legal team, the conditions that enabled this ruling are the result of the brave, courageous, and hard work of so, so many, in California and elsewhere. Equal protection and due process are abstract legal concepts until we, individually and collectively, bring them to life. Only nine years ago, in 2001, when I first got involved in the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts, there were many--including a large number in our own community--who argued that asserting the right to marry would hurt our cause dramatically, even leading to the reversal of the most basic civil rights laws protecting our community.

But those fears did not prevail because same-sex couples and LGBT individuals--and those who love and care about them--knew what was right, and stood up and made strong, brave and compelling cases for their own love and dignity. It's not that they weren't afraid--many who I knew, in Massachusetts, California and elsewhere--were frightened about speaking out authentically about their lives. But they did it anyway, because they knew of its fundamental importance. And not one person that I know regretted afterwards having done so

When I think about today's ruling, I think about Tom and Ron in Indio, CA who met when they were 19 and 23, who served their country in the military, and who have been together through thick and thin now for 57 years and are facing, together, the challenges of growing old. I think about Jill in Riverside, who married her partner of 23 years last year, only to lose her to breast cancer this past April, and who is now raising three kids on her own. And I think of the Moyas from Marino Valley, a hard-working Latino couple who have just adopted their third child. All of these people have been speaking up, in their communities, in the press, and with their families about their lives together, their commitment to one another and to their family. They and so many like them are the ones who have made marriage real for their neighbors, community, and ultimately for judges and voters.

One final thought about today's ruling. This story is far from written--and it's a story we get to write. Just as our community's hard work led to today's victory, if we are to see full marriage equality in California and throughout the country, we must stay at it. The writing of this human rights journey does not stop with any individual court ruling, powerful though it may be. Wins can be just as ephemeral as losses, and so that means that we must continue to make our case, tell our stories, share our lives.

We've all seen the power of a loss, and the powerful, complicated, and often inspired energy that results from it. My greatest hope from today's win is that--at a time when our community has seen too many disappointments both in Washington and in California--we use this win to catalyze, rejuvenate, and redouble our work. Let's use today's win to remember that it's working--our stories are working--and that there's still much more work to do.

Let's start simple--pick out a line or two from today's opinion that inspires you, and share it along with why marriage equality matters to you, with friends and family members. Then join us in going door to door and telling our stories.

The path to victory is winding and in some ways complicated, but in other, more fundamental ways, it's simple--telling our stories, sharing our lives, demonstrating our humanity.


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Sorry, but I just can't resist:

"Only nine years ago, in 2001, when I first got involved in the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts, there were many--including a large number in our own community--who argued that asserting the right to marry would hurt our cause dramatically, even leading to the reversal of the most basic civil rights laws protecting our community."

Asserting the right to marry in Mass. most certainly did hurt OUR cause, Mr. Solomon, just not YOUR cause. Just ask any of the transfolks in Massachusetts you left behind when you blew out of there. They're still without basic civil rights, and I'm sure they could tell you some pretty harrowing stories about what's been going on there since you've sailed on to head another big-money marriage-focused org.

All LGBT's should enjoy and celebrate this victory, but we should also look to those like you, Mr. Solomon, as examples of leaders who don't see past their own political doorsteps, and who are blind to the rights of those not in their own exclusive cliques.

Gunita Singh | August 4, 2010 7:49 PM

Wow, I think your comment is unnecessarily bitter.
Your plight is in no way contradictory to Mr. Solomon's words. His perspective is focused on the issue of same-sex marriage and the hurdles which that particular struggle offers; the civil rights affairs associated with trans-issues unfortunately presents a whole extra spectrum of challenges that our community IS indeed working on - however, pragmatism entails taking the "one step at a time" approach. It entails being practical and systematic. Gay marriage has come so far, and as a result, we need to rough it out and focus our energy in a prospect which we KNOW is yielding and will continue to yield results. Marriage equality IS that prospect. This doesn't mean that trans-issues are being neglected. I work for EQCA and we are working on trans-rights in parallel. Your comment makes our organization seem excessively bureaucratic, which it most certainly isn't.

There are SO freaking many of us who didn't say what you beautifully did. Brava Gunita!!

Marc Solomon | August 4, 2010 7:50 PM

Rebecca,

Thanks for your comment. In that quote you highlighted, I was referring to people who wanted us to be cautious and push for something short of marriage. These are the same people who don't want us to advocate for equality for transgender people because that goes "too far."

I am sick about the fact that Massachusetts doesn't have a transgender non-discrimination law. Prior to my leaving MassEquality, we drove the legislature hard to get a majority of all legislators to cosponsor the Sciortino bill, in close partnership with Massachusetts Transgender Political Caucus. We also worked our hardest, successfully, to get the Department of Motor Vehicles to make it easier to change gender identification on drivers' licenses.

I am appalled at the cowardice of the legislature for not moving the bill this session. I continue to be in touch with Rep. Sciortino and others about ways I can help.

Thanks for responding. I want to make clear exactly what I'm upset about because I do think it's relevant, even though California law is not really at issue here.

The reality we saw played out in Mass. and Connecticut is that the big-money activists and donors disappear once same-sex marriage is won, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves. In addition, transfolks have been left behind by the gay and lesbian activist community after their rights have been won so many times that it's become the expectation. New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Delaware...the list goes on and on.

Marriage activists win their issue and then disappear, taking their buckets of cash with them. I believe it's time the rest of the community started exacting a price for this kind of behavior. It's time to make the point and to keep making it that making marriage a primary issue when we're still fighting for the right to work and not be thrown out of our homes is putting the cart before the horse and detrimental to the the overall battle for LGBT equality. It's time to start pointing out to anyone who will listen that marriage rights are logically the primary priority of those who already have nice homes and good jobs, not those who desperately need to maintain employment in order to survive.

Yes, I'm angry, and I think I have a right to be. So do the hundreds of thousands still struggling who the big-money marriage activists have turned their backs on. It's long past time to make sure everyone knows it.

What a great post, Marc. I honor you for the work you did in Massachusetts and what you've done so far in California. When all the marriage stuff is wrapped up there, where are you headed next? You're becoming the Pied Piper of nuptials! :)

Unfortunately, civil rights activism can be a zero-sum game, and it sucks being at the bottom of the barrel. But for this morning, I am glorying in a well-written decision, an elegant turn of phrase, and a recognition that we are human. Tomorrow I'll get out the squirt-bottle again.

Renee Thomas | August 5, 2010 10:15 AM

"There are SO freaking many of us who didn't say what you powerfully did. Brava Rebecca!!"

Don’t get me wrong, I too am thrilled for the sweet victory in what continues to be a protracted war. Yet while the right to marry does certainly affect me as a gay (and trans) person, the right to work and to make my domicile free of the discrimination of others (who would preclude me those fundamental rights) is indeed critical to my economic survival.

" . . .trans-issues unfortunately presents a whole extra spectrum of challenges . . ."

Ah quite right . . . significantly "icky-er" who you are (vis-à-vis the policing of the gender binary) than who or how you love, yes?

There was a time when simply “being gay” presented a similar “spectrum” of woe.

Do you remember?

Look, don't kid yourself Gunita, there are vast swaths of this country populated by folks who will remain strongly disinclined (by superstition, ignorance or bigotry) to make any such distinctions. The war is far from over when my cisgender gay brothers and lesbian sisters have gained the right to marry. You’ll still have a fight on your hands when the last handful of rice is thrown and the strains of the last dance are but a sweet memory.

After your glorious (and well earned) wedding night you'll wake up the next day to the realization that we trans folk cannot escape - it was NEVER about who you’re “allowed” to marry - it's about who and what you are.

You’ll still be guilty by association among the great (and still ignorant) unwashed.

When that sinks in, will it taste "unnecessarily bitter" to you Gunita - or to you Dieks?

You'll have to let me know.

Renee Thomas | August 5, 2010 10:43 AM

"There are SO freaking many of us who didn't say what you powerfully did. Brava Rebecca!!"

Don’t get me wrong, I too am thrilled for the sweet victory in what continues to be a protracted war. Yet while the right to marry does certainly affect me as a gay (and trans) person, the right to work and to make my domicile free of the discrimination of others (who would preclude me those fundamental rights) is indeed critical to my economic survival.

" . . .trans-issues unfortunately presents a whole extra spectrum of challenges . . ."

Ah quite right . . . significantly "icky-er" who you are (vis-à-vis the policing of the gender binary) than who or how you love, yes?

There was a time when simply “being gay” presented a similar “spectrum” of woe.

Do you remember?

Look, don't kid yourself Gunita, there are vast swaths of this country populated by folks who will remain strongly disinclined (by superstition, ignorance or bigotry) to make any such distinctions. The war is far from over when my cisgender gay brothers and lesbian sisters have gained the right to marry. You’ll still have a fight on your hands when the last handful of rice is thrown and the strains of the last dance are but a sweet memory.

After your glorious (and well earned) wedding night you'll wake up the next day to the realization that we trans folk cannot escape - it was NEVER about who you’re “allowed” to marry - it's about who and what you are.

You’ll still be guilty by association among the great (and still ignorant) unwashed.

When that sinks in, will it taste "unnecessarily bitter" to you Gunita - or to you Dieks?

You'll have to let me know.

Renee Thomas | August 5, 2010 11:01 AM

oops sorry 'bout the double post

Please Mods . . . save me

Meredith Gasco | August 8, 2010 9:51 AM

Excuse me, Rebecca, but "marriage rights are logically the primary priority of those who already have nice homes and good jobs, not those who desperately need to maintain employment in order to survive"?

I'm sorry, but isn't that a little prejudiced of you? I may not be trans, but I want a gender-identity-inclusive ENDA and gender-identity-inclusive hate crimes protections, employment non-discrimination, and housing non-discrimination laws just as much as you or any other trans person, because I believe in supporting the rights of our transgender brothers and sisters in this movement. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

But as much as I want protections for trans people, I also want to get married to the woman I'm in love with. And you know something? I'm a college student. I work at McDonalds. I rent my own apartment next to the local community's heroin hub. I live in a state (Michigan) where I can both lose my job and be thrown out of my apartment for being gay. I have neither a nice home nor a good job, and I have many of the same legal vulnerabilities that trans people do.

But I still want to be able to get married. Do you see something wrong with that?

There is nothing wrong to wanting to get married, but there most certainly is a problem with prioritizing the achievement of that right over the rights to work and live free of discrimination. That's the issue and it always has been.

When a couple, regardless of gender combo, decides to get married, what's the first thing they do? Do they call the caterers, rent a hall, and book a honeymoon, or do they first make sure they have an income to live on and a place to live once the festivities are over and it's time to start living their daily lives as a married couple?

It's not only real-world common sense, but the political history teaches us that when marriage rights are won before workplace and housing rights are, there's a very good chance that the big-money activists will just quickly pack up and move on to the next marriage battle leaving the rest of the community (most commonly transpeople) twisting in the wind. We saw this in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, and we've seen it in many more states that have workplace and housing rights for gays and lesbians but none for transpeople.

That's my issue in a nutshell. First you make sure you have an income you can live on and a home in which to live your lives together. Then you call the caterer and send out the invitations. It's just plain old common sense.

Meredith Gasco | August 9, 2010 11:05 PM

I see your point, and I do partially agree with you. It is common sense to be somewhat financially secure before deciding to make the commitment of getting married, mostly to make things easier as a couple. And I agree that big-money activists are a problem, though I would argue that no matter the issue they tend to be economically discriminatory and more concerned with the money than the rights.

But I would also argue that some of the legal rights that come with marriage rights can help with the economic concerns. All those tax breaks and spousal benefits offered through employers and similar entitlements we gay folk commonly cite as part of the reason we want marriage equality do actually exist, after all. True, being married doesn't stop you from losing your job. But if one partner does lose a job to homophobia, if you're married, then the other can funnel some benefits their way to support them.

Does the prioritizing of marriage as a "gay" issue overshadow equally if not more important rights battles for LGBT folk? Absolutely. But is the fact that we may be close to winning marriage rights, which would not only make us happy but entitle us to certain legal protections we don't currently have as couples, completely awesome and fabulous? Totally.