Watching history

Marriage locks
Photo of Marriage locks on Prague bridge by Thomas Quine. Used under CC BY 2.0

I’ve read, heard, and watched a number of different comments about the Supreme Court hearings over the past couple of days. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, seriously? If you are from the future and the court’s decision has faded into the past to only be dredged up when studying for AP History exams, this is the week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of California’s voter proposition that changed the CA state constitution to define marriage as only being between 1 man and 1 woman, and they heard arguments on the constitutionality of the federal definition of marriage being 1 man and 1 woman)

I live in California. The passage of Prop. 8 was a sad day, as I think any day we pass legislation that intentionally labels some as other and not worthy of the rules everyone else plays by is a sad day. The fact that Prop. 8 and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) have created a nebulous gray area where some people have some rights in some places does not follow what the U.S. does when we are the very best of ourselves that we can be.

In California, there were 18,000 couples who were legally married before they couldn’t be married. And their marriages are still legal. Except that California doesn’t marry people of the same-sex. And DOMA prevents marriages that occur in nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia from being federally recognized, which means same-sex couples from those places don’t get federal perks. Like tax breaks. Or next of kin status. Or veteran or Social Security benefits. But they are married. And this uncertainty and separation is not what we do here. We have done this at points in our past. We’re realizing we’re doing it with our population of immigrants who came to the U.S. and do not have the documentation we expect. And I’m sure we will do this again as we move forward, because we draw lines without thinking who we’re drawing in and who we’re drawing out. But when the separation becomes apparent, we change the rules to ensure we always act in the way we expect our better natures to be.

We seem to be waking up to a number of these groups though, which means I will be watching lots of history over this year. With comprehensive immigration reform and equalizing the opportunity for marriage* on the near horizon, I hope that I get to live through the U.S. taking the big steps to achieve our great ideal. My parents’ lived through the passage of the Civil Rights Act. And the defeat of the amendment that would spell out equal rights for women. And the Vietnam War. And the moon landing. I often wondered if I would get the opportunity to feel that as well. I don’t wonder any more.

This time is tense, stretched taut between hope and defeat, but I’m so interested and invested where our steps take us. I hope we end up walking on other planets.

* The conversation surrounding marriage deserves its own post, because marriage is complex. I don’t know when that will happen.