Vindication for the Long Fight for Marriage Equality

In 1999, we were only four people: two gay men, one lesbian and one straight guy. We founded Marriage Equality California to fight against the Knight Initiative (later Proposition 22), a plan by a homophobic California state legislator named Pete Knight to put on the ballot an initiative to prevent his own son from marrying. This malice by a father for his son was part of a series of laws in California, in the rest of the nation and even in the federal government to prevent marriage equality nationwide. In California, the anti-gay attacks culminated in Proposition 8. In the federal government, the worst attack on our marriage equality was the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

We started our first marriage protest on Valentine's Day 2000. Dozens of same-sex couples lined up at a courthouse in Beverly Hills to try to get married. Many were long-time couples. Others of us just tried to get married to test the law. (I must have attempted to get married three or four times that day, including at least twice to Marriage Equality California co-founder LJ Carusone.) As the only lawyer of the four of us, it was my job to coordinate the protest with authorities. I promised the police and court officials that we would not be violent in any way. And court officials, in turn, graciously agreed to waive the marriage license fee, since we all knew they would reject our attempts to get married. I remember it was a beautiful day, and a joyful one: We all smiled ear-to-ear knowing we were attempting something that was then impossible but which every one of us thought would eventually become possible.

Thirteen years later, we have come full circle. DOMA is gone, and California will soon marry gay couples forevermore. It's a great day for America. It is a tribute to all the activists, from Frank Kameny's protests in the 1950s to Stonewall in the 1960s, from early attempts by gay couples to marry in the 1970s to Hawaii's court decision in the early 1990s, from civil unions in Vermont to our rag-tag Valentine's Day protests, from the achieving of marriage equality in 12 states and the District of Columbia to Ted Olson and David Boies and the plaintiffs today achieving this wonderful milestone in California and in the nation. I'm proud to have played my small part in this process, both in California and in D.C. (where I helped write the law and defended it in court).

But I also know that none of us worked alone: It is only because of the effort of thousands of activists nationwide all working together that caused this to happen. Not the least of these efforts was our protests in Hollywood in the early 1990s demanding that TV stations put positive portrayals of gay men and lesbians on television. I remember sitting across the table from a Hollywood executive who told me, with a pained face, that America was not ready for that yet. But we persisted. A few years later, Will & Grace became the most popular show on television. And, as Joe Biden pointed out, shows like that made a major impact. Today, the majority of the nation supports marriage equality. In fact, young people today favor marriage equality so overwhelmingly that they fail to understand why it was ever an issue.

Of course, we are not there yet. Obviously, in 37 states, gay men and lesbians have yet to achieve equality under the law. But there are times when one must celebrate how far we have come before taking a deep breath and finishing the battle.

One sad note: This great day occurred only a day after the Supreme Court struck down the key section of the Voting Rights Act that protects African Americans -- and indeed all Americans -- from nefarious state laws designed to block them from voting. We must be mindful of the fact that we will never truly be free and equal under the law until all Americans -- of every sexual orientation, gender, race, religion and national origin -- are able to live free and equal under the law, with such basic freedoms as the right to marry and the right to vote available to every American man and woman.