For anyone following current affairs, Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling ushers in an exciting time. There exists a wealth of people ardently in support of the ruling, as well as an ocean of detractors. For whatever reason, nothing seems to get people more riled up than a conversation about gay rights.
But from a personal standpoint, this ruling holds greater meaning. As a young gay woman, for the first time in my life, I can look in my girlfriend’s eyes and imagine someday being her wife. Sure, we’ve talked about having a commitment ceremony, or some sort of gathering to celebrate our devotion to and love for one another. But now, we could get married according to the state. We could call each other “wife” and have it be the truth, not only to each other and to our friends and family but to society.
Like most people, receiving validation is one of my life’s main goals; I want to know that my work is meaningful and that my relationships matter. Validation has taken on a whole new meaning, however, since last April, when I told my parents that I’m gay and in a same-sex relationship.
My folks are perfectly decent people who raised me in a very loving household in southern Orange County. They are committed to their Christian faith and the black-and-white worldview that goes along with a fundamentalist perspective-so committed, in fact, that they’ve responded harshly to my coming out.
When I first spoke about my sexuality, my dad told me I was every father’s “worst nightmare.” My mother told me I had turned my back on God and chosen a sinful lifestyle. Not only do they not approve of my “choices,” they refuse to see my girlfriend and have been adamant about me keeping “that aspect” of my life to myself. Things have certainly gotten better-a few weeks ago, my dad said “I love you” before I did, a first since I’ve come out. But I’m still seeking that validation of how I’m living my life.
The issue of choice comes up a lot in conversations about sexuality. Is same-sex attraction (or opposite-sex attraction, for that matter) something people are born with, or is it something that’s learned? Personally, I’ve never gotten into those debates of nature versus nurture. Instead, I rest in my belief that every relationship is a choice; every time I tell someone that I love him or her, I’m choosing to maintain that relationship. On a daily basis, I decide to stay in my relationship with my girlfriend in the same way that every day, my parents choose to stay together.
The Supreme Court’s ruling validates committed same-sex couples in the eyes of the state. I hope that it helps to validate me in the eyes of my parents.
My search for acceptance was reflected in the speeches at Thursday’s courthouse rally, which was an emotional reversal from the previous time Santa Barbara’s gay rights community converged there. That was in February to mourn the murder of 15-year-old Oxnard junior high schooler Lawrence King, who was shot in the head for asking a male classmate to be his valentine. This time, the atmosphere was joyous, and I was overwhelmed by the amount of people-gay and straight-who showed up on just a couple hours’ notice, and by the gamut of emotions exhibited by the speakers and audience members.
But more than anything else, I was proud. Proud of my state, which took a brave stand for its people’s civil rights; proud to be a member of a diverse and eclectic group of people; and proud to be part of such a monumental moment in history.
When Mark Asman, the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, took the mike at the rally, I also found myself proud to be a Christian, a unique feeling for someone who finds that her faith has been adulterated by the religious right. Asman pointed out a handful of other church leaders in the crowd, saying pointedly, “We are not all the enemy.”
I am a Christian who finds strength in the revolutionary aspect of Jesus’ teachings; as such, I believe that were he to walk on the Earth today, this would be his fight. Contrary to what right-wing fundamentalists want you to believe, Jesus’ message was one of radical inclusion. And while my knowing that gets me through the hateful and homophobic rhetoric of the Dobsons and Falwells of the world, hearing Asman reiterate the message reminded me why I became a Christian in the first place.
The rally was full of animated people, with folks whistling and ringing their bicycle bells in support; the excitement seemed almost contagious, as dogs barked and children frolicked in the grass. But each speaker grounded us in the reality of the court’s decision: Today we celebrate, tomorrow we continue the fight.
I left the rally smiling with excitement and determination to continue working for equal rights. The day had been filled with emotion-a coworker’s eyes welled with tears as he told me about going to the courthouse to figure out exactly what hoops he and his partner of 27 years had to jump through to get hitched. A friend of mine had me listen to a voicemail from his brother who, despite the fact that they hadn’t spoken in months, called to say congratulations about the ruling. A young woman told a moving story about how, as a child of same-sex parents, this decision validated her family and her upbringing.
When I told my girlfriend about the ruling a few hours after it was announced, she said that it was great news but nervously asked if that meant we had to get married, like, today.
Not today, or even tomorrow. But, yes, someday. Because now we can.
Penny Patterson writes an online column about gay life in Santa Barbara called Gay Girl/Straight World. See independent.com/gaygirl for more.