Not long ago, I attended a memorial for an aunt, my mother’s last remaining sibling. It took place where she’d lived for nearly 60 years, in Williamstown, a village up in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, nestled up against the New York and Vermont state lines.
An undaunted and undauntable woman, my aunt had been widowed at a young age and raised four children – my cousins – on her own. She’d championed women’s rights for decades, and was nearly elected to the state legislature, which I guarantee you would never have been the same had she made it.
What struck me during the service in the picture-postcard 18th century, colonial-style church, was this: of her four children, two are straight, one gay, and the other lesbian. All four and their respective spouses, of course, had come. Yes, spouses, because we were in largely liberated New England, where marriage between people of the same gender has become the norm. The women had married in Connecticut, the men in Massachusetts.
While certainly I – like many of you – have been to plenty of events where same-sex couples were acknowledged, there was something extraordinary about being there, where “Wanda and Bev” were, in every way, on equal footing with “Mark and Jean,” as “Peter and Rick” were with “Kevin and Laura.” In the slide show of my aunt’s life that looped during the reception, all the couples got equal billing.
It was the most natural thing in the world. Which, of course, is how it should be everywhere for everyone all the time.
But we know it’s not. In much of the country, the same-sex couples not only wouldn’t be married, but would be compelled – to avoid controversy, at the least – to keep their single most important relationship quiet, concealed, out of sight. And marriage? Still all but unthinkable in far too many places.
At the same time, there’s much to be encouraged about. With the exceptions of Maine and Rhode Island, New England has full marriage equality. As does D.C. As does Iowa. New York, of course, brought us all a stunning and important victory this past summer, doubling overnight the number of people with access to full marriage rights. The Perry case challenging Proposition 8 still hangs before the U.S. Court of Appeals, with a favorable outcome entirely possible. And this year we’re likely to see attempts – winnable attempts – to roll back marriage bans in Maine and possibly Washington state as well.
Unfortunately, we also have to play defense in places where the other side sees an opportunity to roll back what we’ve won, or pass anti-marriage-equality constitutional marriage bans in even more states. New Hampshire faces a possible threat of repeal of marriage equality, while Minnesota and North Carolina will have to beat back attempts to put anti-marriage clauses in their state constitutions.
It all makes for an incredibly complex and shifting field of play. And it’s one where more and more places will look like nearly-liberated New England, New York, and Iowa. And this country will become – in time – a place where more and more of us can be who we are, with whom we want, be that for a wedding, a family vacation, or even a funeral.
Thank you to each of you for your contributions that help bring this day closer all the time.