It was a cool spring night as Chuck Colbert, my then-colleague for the now-defunct InNewsweekly, and I arrived at Cambridge City Hall to witness the first same-sex couples in Massachusetts apply for — and receive — marriage licenses starting at 12:01 a.m. on May 17, 2004.
I didn’t fully comprehend the history I was about to witness as I drove to Cambridge from southern New Hampshire. I was a 22-year-old soon-to-be-college graduate who thought he was simply on another assignment. My last final at the University of New Hampshire was the following morning, and my graduation from UNH was five days later. I was also starting to finalize my plans to move to New York City.
All of those thoughts quickly took a back seat to the scene that greeted Chuck and me as we arrived at Cambridge City Hall.
More than 2,000 people had gathered around the building to witness this watershed moment in the history of the U.S. LGBT rights movement that began at 12:01 a.m. when Massachusetts became the first state in the country to allow gays and lesbians to legally marry. They sang “God Bless America” and “Going to the Chapel” as the more than 200 same-sex couples that received marriage licenses began to leave the building. People were jubilant, emotional and deeply grateful to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for extending them the dignity of basic legal recognition in their home state.
A decade later, my home state of New Hampshire is among the 18 states alongside my adopted hometown of D.C. that now allow same-sex marriage. Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico City, Iceland, England, Wales, France, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, South Africa and New Zealand have also extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians.
The U.S. has seen significant progress in terms of LGBT rights in other areas since gays and lesbians began to marry in Massachusetts.
Maryland last week joined 17 other states, the nation’s capital and Puerto Rico that have added gender identity and expression to their anti-discrimination laws. Delaware and Nevada last year joined 13 other states alongside D.C. and Puerto Rico with transgender-inclusive hate crimes statutes.
President Obama has signed bills that expanded the federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This White House also speaks out in support of global LGBT rights in a way that gives tangible hope to advocates in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia and other countries who are literally under siege and even dying for simply who they are.
This country has seen significant progress in terms of LGBT rights over the last decade. One can certainly make a clear case, however, that much remains to be done in this post-Goodridge world in which we live.
Congress has yet to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — and LGBT people in more than two-dozen states still lack even the most basic of statewide legal protections. Trans people remain disproportionately affected by hate crimes and violence in the U.S. and around the world.
Homosexuality remains criminalized in more than 70 countries, including several in which those convicted of same-sex sexual acts face the death penalty. The case of Nikki Mawanda, a Ugandan trans advocate whose stepfather nearly strangled his mother to death when he was 13 because “she gave birth to” him, and numerous others around the world whom I’ve interviewed as a Washington Blade reporter underscore the fact there is much to be done to ensure our LGBT brothers and sisters enjoy the same basic dignity and respect that many of us in the U.S. simply take for granted.
It is only natural for advocates and allies to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a landmark moment in this country’s LGBT rights movement that I and countless others had the good fortune to witness. May 17, 2004, meant so much to so many people — the couples who were now able to legally marry and the hard-working advocates at MassEquality, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and other groups who made that day possible. They should not be made to feel guilty about celebrating a watershed milestone in the history of this country’s LGBT rights movement.
It is equally appropriate to acknowledge the work that remains to be done in this country and around the world to ensure that all of our LGBT brothers and sisters receive the rights to which they are entitled. This is our collective responsibility in the post-Goodridge world in which we live.