I’m not a fan of Virginia politics — never have been. I’m liberal, tolerant, pro-choice, pro gun control; color me blue if you must color me at all. The “red” GOP usually dominates Virginia’s politics; they slyly roll back rights for women, minority voters and same sex couples. Every few years we elect a Democratic majority who repeal the really shitty stuff, but they have no time to work on their own agendas as a result. Intolerance prevails.
Even so, Virginia is a hard place from which to move away. I can, in one half day’s time, travel by car from one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world to any number of scenic points along one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. When I get to the shore, I can dine on succulent Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, Rappahannock oysters, sweet Silver Queen corn, and ripe Pungo strawberries. Along the way I’ll have driven through rolling foothills that flatten out into fertile farmlands, skirted swampland, dripping with life and crossed rivers that flow to the bay, out into the Gulf Stream and the Atlantic.
Rain that falls in the mountains where I live finds its way to this same shore. And other things connect me - family. So I reside in Virginia in spite of how much I hate the exclusionary bigotry that taints the Commonwealth’s constitution and laws.
For example, in 2006 when 57% of Virginians voted to discriminate against same sex couples by adding yet another gay marriage ban to the constitution, I was in the 43% that said, “bullshit.” The effort capped a systematic 31-year campaign of discrimination against a specific group of citizens, even going so far as to invalidate the same sex marriages of those who moved to Virginia with their spouses after wedding in a more forward-thinking and tolerant zip code. I hate that Virginia did that.
I’m also still pissed at President Clinton for signing DOMA in 2008, even while he issued a statement regarding his strenuous opposition to discrimination in any form. But let’s face facts, Virginia beat him to it. Virginia decided first that this kind of bigotry was okey- dokey, years before the Fed got officially stupid.
I am ashamed of my Commonwealth’s position here. I have a strong, innate sense of fairness, and I bristle at the idea that others cannot do what I can, if I wish. I believe marriage inequality is not only morally wrong, it violates the spirit and intent of each individual’s right to the pursuit of happiness. I’m not a lawyer, but I think this makes it unconstitutional as well.
This week the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) took up two separate cases regarding the rights of homosexuals to get married (in CA) and share in the same benefits afforded to married heterosexual federal workers (nationwide). I have hopes that SCOTUS will decide both of these cases in favor of marriage equality, and I am not the only Virginian who feels this way. I’ve been waiting for this for years now. I think it’s past time we got right about this.
So imagine my annoyance when my most favorite Supreme Court justice questioned whether enough time had been spent on this debate:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: “[If the]... focus on this issue is letting the States experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction, why is taking a case now the answer? ...We let issues perk, and so we let racial segregation perk for 50 years from 1898 to 1954...And now we are only talking about, at most, four years.” [transcript; page 64, lines 5-16]
I’d like to ask a counter question: Why wait?
When it comes to questions of equality, when has waiting ever been the best idea? Here, in the land of opportunity, the brave women who, alongside our founding fathers, wrestled a new nation from the coastal shores, fertile farmlands and scenic mountains of Virginia (and the other original 13 colonies) did not have the right to vote until 1920. Winning the right to get a job or make our own decisions about procreation took years longer. We still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. As for procreative choices, I actually had to: a) achieve the age of 35, b) get married, c) get my husband’s signature, AND d) wait 30 DAYS to get a tubal ligation. In Virginia. In the 21st century. Fucking ridiculous.
By comparison, the fifty-year “perk” period for racial equality feels more like a sprint than a marathon. That’s bullshit, of course; God knows we as a society still have a long road to walk to get completely right about that. The disparities between whites and minorities in socio-economic status, educational opportunities and the odds of being wrongly arrested are all too real. But we can't allow that to diminish the progress we’ve made.
One hundred forty-four years was a stupid amount of time to take to get right about letting women vote. Fifty years was a stupid amount of time to get right about racial segregation. Four years is a stupid amount of time to have already wasted refusing marriage equality to same sex couples. Today, no rational person upholds the idea that it is okay to deny equal rights to women or people of color. How can we still justify denying a person equal rights based simply on their choice of who to love?
The notion that sanctioning “non-traditional marriage” somehow threatens the institute of marriage itself is, to me, an unsupportable cop out. The reality of my marriage is unchanged by the reality of any one else’s marriage. The existence of other married people in no way diminishes (or enhances) my relationship with my husband. If anything, marriage equality strengthens the institute of marriage, making it accessible to all citizens. Wedding planners, bakers and florists rejoice! Marriage equality brings with it an expanded customer base of people who want to get married, honor the institution and its vows, and make a life for themselves and their families by forming a committed and loving relationship. (By the same argument, divorce attorneys nationwide must be giddy at the prospect of an expanded client base. It will shock me if their fellow attorneys on the Supreme Court deny them that revenue.)
I also find unsupportable the notion that same sex parenting is somehow harmful to a child. The absence of loving parents (of any sexual orientation) is harmful to a child. A home safeguarded by adoring parents who put the needs of their child ahead of their own -- this will never harm a child. Justice Scalia called into question the potential harmful effects of same sex parenting on a child [transcript; page 19, Lines 7-18]. But I wish to point out (since he didn’t feel the need to) that crappy parents already exist. Ask anyone who works in Child Protective Services. They can tell you all about heterosexual parents who beat their children, exploit them, belittle them, sexually molest them, neglect them completely. Marriage between one man and one woman does absolutely nothing to protect children from abuse any more than it promotes child abuse. There are good parents and there are crappy parents. Some of them are gay. Some of them are straight.
You say, “let it wait, let it perk.” I say, “Why?” Discrimination in any form holds us back as a society. We’re so busy trying to exclude one segment of our society or another, for one dumb reason or another, that we never find the time to tackle the really big challenges such as how to feed all the children, how to provide jobs that offer a living wage for the caregivers of the children, how to embrace the huddled masses that still arrive in our country legally or otherwise, yearning to be free, how to give everyone a shot at the aptly named American dream (more like fantasy…) without bankrupting them with college student loan debt, or worse, denying them the opportunity of higher education at all.
I hope SCOTUS chooses a more proactive position to letting things “perk” – this has gone on long enough. Life is too short. Discrimination is too pointless. More than that, I really need them to do the right thing. I can’t help feeling that if we can end the discrimination on a federal level, we can get Virginians right, too. We can write another amendment to our Commonwealth’s constitution that grants all citizens the rights and privileges (and drawbacks and challenges and heartaches and joys) of marriage. As Virginia State Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) put it, “You can’t stop the progress of the human mind, even in Virginia.”