Yesterday, our family went to a press conference in the morning and I attended a reception in the evening, both celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia ruling, which struck down state laws prohibiting — even criminalizing — marriage between people of different races. People like the ones in this video, produced by Faith in America and the National Black Justice Coalition.
I went because I live in a state where forty years ago I could not marry the person I love, because he is white and I am black. I went because today I live in a state where, forty years later I still cannot marry the person I love because we are two men.
I went because as a human being I believe — I know — in the marrow of my bones that it is my basic human right to dare to dream, and as an American it is my basic civil right to pursue those dreams, so long as I don’t violate anyone else’s basic human and civil rights.
I went to protect a dream that once upon a time I didn’t dare to dream.
I went because seven years ago, my met a man who won my heart, and we exchanged rings with one another on a beach, alone. In the presence of and witnessed by the ocean, the moon, and the stars, we made promises to one another. The closest thing to a wedding we’ve ever had.
I went because four years later, we became the parents of a baby boy just four days old. That same night, looking down into his crib as he slept, we made promises to one another again — unspoken — and to him too.
I went because fifteen years ago, doing genealogical research, I discovered an ancestor who had been born a slave. I discovered the name of the slaveowner, whose name I still have, and the location of the plantation. It was a connection to an ancestor who lived through a past in which black people couldn’t not roam freely without papers, or a “pass” that saying who and what gave them the right to be anywhere. (I remembered, then, that blacks in South Africa required “papers” and “passes” in order to travel between work and home.) To be caught without them could mean disaster.
I went because one year ago, on the day we moved into our home, I got a call from a friend of mine. I’d emailed him because I’d received from him what appeared to be a funeral notice, for his husband’s funeral. We’d met them a few years earlier, gone to their wedding, and celebrated their son’s adoption with them. Surely, I thought, I’m reading something wrong. But he told me his story, of how his husband — who had been apparently healthy — collapsed at work after complaining of a headache and was rushed to the hospital. My friend rushed to the hospital, only to be told when he got there that they could not admit him to see his husband or give him any information unless he could prove their relationship, because he was not “next of kin.” My friend drove home, leaving his husband in the hospital without knowing what was wrong with him, retrieved their legal documents, and when he returned to the hospital he was admitted to see his husband. A few days later, his husband died without regaining consciousness.
I went because three years ago, Michael Tartaglia and John Crisci, after 30 years together, were less fortunate when John had to return home to retrieve their legal documents so that he might be allowed to see Michael once he reached the hospital, but arrived only to be greeted by a priest and a doctor.
I went because right now, the religious right in Minnesota is opposing legislation that would give same-sex couples the right to hospital visitation— just one of over 1000 protections granted married heterosexuals — where now it is really a privilege that can be granted and revoked based on little more than the whims of individual hospital employees.
I went because seven years ago Sam Beaumont lost everything when his partner of 23 years died, because his will was rendered invalid because it has one too few witnesses, where a heterosexual spouse would have been guaranteed an inheritance even in the complete absence of a will.
I went because today, I keep copies of our legal documents in my office. My husband keep copies of our legal documents in his office. We have copies in our car. We don’t travel without them. To be caught without them could mean disaster.
Two weeks ago, a married heterosexual couple just down the street, we had our neighbors over for dinner with their infant son. It was particularly nice because we’d recommended our adoption agency to them. When I told them the stories above, the wife told me the story of what happened when her husband (who eventually recovered) was rushed to the hospital. She arrived and told hospital personnel, “I’m his wife.” And they responded, “Right this way.”
I went because 30 years ago I learned a song and kept singing it because something about it resonated with me. I sang it, and when others heard it, I got the chance to sing it on stage. Something about the way I sang it resonated with them. I didn’t what it was about then. I knew something about the longing I heard in the voice of the singer who first sang it. But I didn’t know what was meant by “dreams that you dare to dream.”
I went because twenty-six years ago I learned what it meant to have dreams I didn’t dare to dream, and because twenty-two years ago I dared to dream them.
I went because one night ago, I sang my son to sleep as I do every time its my turn to put him to bed. Each time he wants a couple more songs. I sang him the one I learned 30 years ago, and now he requests it often. Sometimes, quietly, he’ll sing it with me. And then I kissed him goodnight and went downstairs, sat down on the couch, held hands with my husband, caught up on our respective days.
I went because every day I know what it is to have a dream I didn’t dare dream, to dream it, and have it become real. I know how fragile it is, because I see the people I love walk out the door each day, knowing how vulnerable they are and how little I can do to protect them. I know that they could be on the other side of a hospital door and I could be denied the right to see them, and I know there are people who believe I shouldn’t have the right to see my husband in the hospital.
I went because Mildred and Richard Loving dared to love — which starts and ends with daring to dream — and helped make it possible for families like ours to dream the same dream and advance towards it. In support of marriage equality on the anniversary of the decision. In words I could write myself today, Mildred Loving wrote:
When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Richard and our love, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was “the wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe that all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation. I am proud that Richard’s and my name are on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
I went because so many of us have taken a step forward by building our families and not waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to us. Not to make a political statement or to start a fight, but because we are human beings to whom dreaming comes as naturally as breathing, and from dreaming comes loving. And each dream dared, each family forged brings the day closer when those dreams are easier to keep and protect, because they’re deemed just as worthy of keeping and protecting as anyone else’s
Interracial marriage bans now seem obviously invidious. But go back far enough and the consensus flips. At one point, most everyone thought such bans were legitimate. The same is true of segregated schooling and discrimination against women. It is true of just about everything the Supreme Court has held that the equal protection clause prohibits: At one point, all of these practices were seen as legitimate reflections of the world, not as invidious attempts to impose inequality. When the court held these practices unconstitutional, it was neither enforcing a rule that had existed since 1868 nor creating a new rule. It was recognizing that social attitudes had shifted, and with them the understanding about what is reasonable and what is invidious.
This point connects Loving to current social struggles, most notably the debate over same-sex marriage. Opponents decry the “activist judges” in Massachusetts who struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban and warn that the Supreme Court will someday follow. So it may — but, if it does, responsibility will not lie primarily with judges.
The past few decades have brought a dramatic change in social attitudes about homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association, which once classified homosexuality as a mental disease, abandoned that position in 1973. Public opinion polls show an increasing acceptance of homosexuality, and state legislatures are beginning to follow. Restricting the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples is increasingly seen as invidious, an inequality inflicted for no good reason.
If the trend continues, this view eventually will find expression at the Supreme Court level, just as it did in Loving. This is not judicial activism. It is how we make the Constitution ours.
Neither is the act of making commitments and building families activism, and neither is the desire to protect our families. It’s just the natural progression of our lives; of anyone’s life, really. It’s the way we make every change that ever happens. Dreaming our dreams, and then loving them into existence.