I am currently on co-op at the ACLU of Arizona, and have been wholly and completely wrapped up in one case: the contempt proceedings in Ortega-Melendres v. Arpaio. The this round of evidentiary hearings wrapped up on Friday, and after weeks of getting assignments such as watch every video ever in which Arpaio gives a news interview (I'm looking at you, "Tea Party News Network"), I am totally out of the loop as to what is happening with SCOTUS.
But on my way home from the office (at 2 pm because someone stole the copper from our air conditioner and it was 90 degrees in the office) I caught a story on NPR about tomorrows arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges. There are two questions at issue in Obergefell:
- 1) Is a state required to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples under the Fourteenth Amendment?
- 2) If a gay couple gets married in a state where gay marriage is already legal, does a state that does not allow gay marriage have to recognize that marriage?
The Obergefell case is actually three different cases that were consolidated into one, and its the case that everyone expects to finally make the court decide one way or another on uniformity in gay marriage.
So, as a gay law student, this should matter to me a lot, right?
Honestly, I'm not so sure. Like many queer people, my feelings on marriage are mixed. One the one hand, I want what other people have and I love parties and I hope that one day I will dance with my love and our families will give us an expensive mixer and new towels. On the other hand, about 800 million things matter to me more as a queer woman than my ability to have that party, things like the disproportionate number of queer people who live in poverty, the racial divides in LGBTQ access to resources, and the fact that marriage is a super creepy way to exclude people who won't or can't fit within that heteronormative family paradigm. I'd rather queer marriage than stuff my gay relationship into a instrument made to perpetuate straightness and normalcy. Also, I would rather have all our queer hearts showing up for the racial justice we need right now than showing up to eat cake.
All my conflicting marriage views aside, the last time SCOTUS was going to decide on a gay marriage issue two years ago, my whole facebook turned bright red. Hundreds of icon photos were replaced with little red = signs. This caused me to have a minor heart attack. I was convinced, because I was in the closet at the time, that each red profile picture was an indictment from someone that they knew my secret. Until I realized what they actually were: bandaids. And then, staring at five hundred red equality signs, I wrote this and came out to my world:
Seven years, seven months and 27 days ago, on July 28, 2005, I wrote a draft of a letter to my parents in my journal. I was 15, and for the first time, I understood why I felt so impossibly pained each time I saw a certain girl in the library. I had recently lain chastely in bed with a classmate from my Catholic girls’ school, marveling at the simplicity of the knuckles of our held hands fitting together so perfectly. In this letter, I apologized over and over. I’m sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry, I said. I am sorry I have disappointed you. I never gave either of my parents that letter, and my dad died before I was brave enough to attempt to tell him.
Prop 8 protests were the first time I carried a sign. At night, I drove around with friends and we stole every pro-prop 8 family values sign we could find, and when I got into my bed that night I cried, knowing that every other house in the neighborhood had emblazoned my flaws in bright yellow plastic stuck into their perfectly kept grass. Pictures of my many Mormon classmates holding pro-prop 8 signs appeared on the internet and I felt awful every time they smiled at me in class, sick at heart for pretending through silence that I was not one of the people they were preaching against.
There are five kids in my family. Convention says there’s a 50% chance one of us is gay. I am the baby, the youngest, the last in line to meet the quota. And I am scared. I am terrified. I am so scared, that before this, before today, I haven’t told two of my siblings, because the thought of losing them breaks my heart more than 2,799 days I’ve spent holding this secret since I first drafted that letter have hurt.
One year, one month, and two days ago, I told a professor friend that I didn’t know how I could begin to feel like one whole person when so many parts of myself were only available to certain people, when I pretended to everyone, even other queer people, that I was perfectly straight.Little by little, I am making myself into a person whose whole is not subdivided and engaged in civil war.
347 days ago, I came out to my mom and step-dad in a text message. I sent it and turned off my phone, scared not that they would disown me, or hurt me, or stop supporting me, but that they would be disappointed in me.
They were not.
And I have been lucky. I have been extraordinarily lucky. Not only to be continued to be loved by friends who have been there from the very first shaken conversations in high school about my confusion, but because I have been surrounded by a whole host of queer friends and mentors who opened my world bigger and brighter than I knew it could be.
The reason this is coming to a head today is because each time I log on facebook, I see hundreds of small red profile icons, each representing someone who is side-eying the Supreme Court and publicly showing their support for marriage equality. My icon is not red, partially because the HRC annoys me more than it encourages me, and partially because I believe that there are more pressing, immediate social issues for both queers and other marginalized people that marriage equality does nothing to solve, but this is not my point.
My point is that each tiny red square I see negates a yellow pro-prop 8 sign I pulled off someone’s lawn as a 17 year old. A friend of my father’s whom I’m facebook friends with has a red equality sign profile picture. My sister. My cousin. So many people who have influenced me are undoing piece by piece the ideological harm that prop 8 did to me as a young queer kid trying to figure myself out in Sacramento in 2008.
So here’s my public coming out letter, my confession I shouldn’t have to confess, but I’m pretty sure is safe in your hands. Thank you for the last two days of little red icons, thank you for letting me end my 2,799 days of keeping this secret, of worrying who knows and who doesn’t. Thank you for making it so that in this letter, unlike my first draft seven years ago, I don’t have to apologize.
That case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, found that the petitioners had no standing to bring a claim, which effectively re-legalized gay marriage in California. The day the decision came down, I cried. My mom hugged me. Things felt big. I had just made the final leap in coming out, and then all of a sudden California was once again homoeroticizing the entire city of San Francisco.
Obergefell feels different. My feelings about marriage generally and gay marriage specifically are only more complicated. The stakes are bigger. Potentially, soon, I could take my love anywhere in the country and apply for a marriage license. But wouldn't I rather take her anywhere in the country and know we wouldn't be harassed on the street, or threatened, or take her anywhere and know that we weren't getting paid 24% less than men? Wouldn't I rather take her to Baltimore? To Ferguson?
Yeah. I would. So, if like me you'll be watching the SCOTUSblog livefeed updates from the Obergefell arguments all day tomorrow, remember that it's complicated. Remember that seeing all those little red signs supporting marriage equality gave me enough bravery to come out, but also remember that the Human Rights Campaign is super creepy and heteronormative. Remember that the being unable to get married is not the same thing as being shot with candy in your pockets, shot in the back while running away, fatally injured while in police custody. Do not ignore urgency of racial justice for the feel good optimism of marriage equality. And as my old professor would say, whatever tomorrow brings, hold the contradictions.