When I married my wife, Cindy, in 1988, we could not imagine a world in which our gay and lesbian friends might share in equal protections under the law. Today, in Illinois, that dream has finally come true.
But it has been a long journey to marriage equality. The struggle arguably began in the United States in 1970 when Minnesota couple Richard Baker and James Michael McConnell were denied a marriage license by the Hennepin County District Court’s clerk. Their initial trial court dismissed their claim and affirmed that the clerk could refuse gay couples a marriage license. Two gloomy decades for marriage followed.
A hint of light broke through in 1993 in Hawaii, when the state supreme court ruled that if the state could not show sufficient justification for its denial of the freedom to marry, Hawaii’s ban would be overturned. Three years later Judge Kevin Chang ruled that the state did not have a legitimate reason for depriving same-sex couples of the freedom to marry. Unfortunately, on the national level, 1996 was the same year that President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which mandated unequal treatment of legally married same-sex couples, selectively depriving them of the then 1,138+ protections and responsibilities that marriage triggers at the federal level.
Since then legislators and courts have played ping pong with equal marriage. Granting it here, taking it away there. Of course, the first real victory may have been in 2004 when Massachusetts passed its freedom to marry law. The first same sex marriage in that state was performed by a Unitarian Universalist minister on the statehouse steps.
Since then ten years have passed, and 19 states (CA, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, ME, MD, MA, MN, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, and WA – plus Washington, D.C.) have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.
In eleven additional states —many of them southern states such as AR, OK, and TX, where marriage equality was thought never a possibility — judges have issued rulings in favor of the freedom to marry, with many of these rulings now stayed as they proceed to appellate courts.
With these advances, nearly 44 percent of Americans live in a state with the freedom to marry for all couples, and more than half of the U.S. population lives in a state that provides marriage, civil union, or protections for all marriages
There is still work to be done for the 66 percent who still cannot marry, and for the many who remain without any protections against unjust seizure of their children, denial of access to their loved ones when facing illness of death, and so many of the rights afforded to everyone standing here today.
As always, there is a choice. It would be easy to loose focus now that we are freed from the bonds of injustice. It would be easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal: the freedom to marry for all America. I know we will not do that, for the fight is in our blood. We have tasted freedom this day and our faith demands that we keep up our struggle until all have the same rights that we enjoy. We will all someday be free to marry the person we love and to whom we wish to commit our lives.