Two days ago, same-sex marriage became legal in the capital of the United States. When I first struggled to come out many years ago, marriage rights was the last thing I thought would ever become a reality. My fondest dream in those days was that my family and friends would accept me and that I would be able to get a job if people knew I was gay. My fear was that people would always look at me and never see beyond someone who liked to sleep with men.
As my former boss, Rep. Bella S. Abzug might have said to her constituents, “We have come a long way baby and screw ‘em if they don’t like it.” We have come a long way and we owe that to the hard work of so many people. As we celebrate this victory we must also never forget that we still have a long way to go before we in the LGBT community have our full equal rights.
At a recent breakfast meeting, D.C. Council member David Catania correctly stated that winning marriage equality in the District was never a question of whether the Council would pass it. Hard work over many years by LGBT activists and our allies ensured the outcome of the Council vote for years.
I was fortunate to work with many of those activists and even wrote the platform of the current mayor, in which he committed to signing the bill when it passed. So the issue was deciding when we would ring the bell and say, “It’s time to claim our rights!” We owe a huge debt of gratitude to David Catania for his understanding that now was the time, and his ability and knowledge of how to move forward.
Many years from now, young gays and lesbians will wonder what all the fuss was about. They will grow up secure in the knowledge that they can love the person they want and then marry that person like all their straight friends. They may never even think about the struggle that took place to gain that right and maybe that is the way it should be because as we move toward full civil and human rights for all people in our nation it will eventually be commonplace.
But today as we celebrate with the couples who have applied for their marriage licenses and look forward to their weddings on March 9, we need to think of the struggle that brought us to this day and to the struggles that still lie ahead. We must be vigilant as the court cases to turn back the clock proceed and as reactionary members of Congress continue to try to interfere in the business of the District of Columbia.
We will continue to hit speed bumps on the road to equality. Just as the fight for civil rights and women’s rights are still to be completed, the fight for full equality for the LGBT community is far from over. The fight goes on state by state and in Congress to ensure that one day a majority of the people, and our elected officials, will conclude that a nation that doesn’t recognize the full rights of all its people hasn’t yet fulfilled its highest aspirations. If one person in our nation isn’t free to enjoy all the liberty we are entitled to, then none of us can be sure of those liberties.
Marriage equality will have no immediate impact on my life. I have been lucky in many things but have never found the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with. I have seen many marriages among my straight friends that weren’t what I would want. Some even kid me that they see no reason to deny me my right to marry as I should be able to suffer equally.
But in all seriousness, I urge the young people in our community to remember that marriage has not only benefits but responsibilities. It should be entered into seriously and not just to prove that we can or the real beneficiaries may be the lawyers. There are gay and lesbian couples that have been together for decades and this chance to legalize their unions was something they never dreamed of. For those couples and others in love, and for the youth of our nation I am proud that we have reached this milestone and that I have been able to be a part of the fight.
Love may not conquer all but it sure is beautiful and what makes it even better for us today is the right to declare it to the world and have it recognized. Watching those couples that tie the knot on March 9 in a legal civil ceremony will be truly inspiring.
Peter Rosenstein is a LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist based in D.C.