The Steps of History: Marriage Equality
Updated: Sep 8, 2018
That’s the phrase I remember swirling around and around in my head as I got to witness history on June 26, 2015. I was there on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States when Obergefell v. Hodges was decided and marriage became legal for everyone in all 50 states.
I was in Washington, D.C. that summer for an internship with the Human Rights Campaign, which is the nation’s largest non-profit organization fighting for LGBT rights. All HRC staff and interns were present on the steps of the Supreme Court that day. We wanted a noticeable presence, because the organization as a whole had worked endlessly for many years to see the results of that case. They rallied all the troops, which meant that I was lucky enough to be present at the court for that monumental decision.
The sun wasn’t out that day, so a cloudy sky led to a temperature that was surprisingly comfortable for June in DC. The energy in the air was palpable. There were many amped-up people squeezed together in a somewhat contained environment, waiting to see if their identities would be validated by their nation. It was like we were on the edge of a cliff and we didn’t know if we were falling into bliss or disaster when we jumped.
At about 9:30 in the morning (decisions are released at 10:00), I was called over by another HRC intern and asked to hold the shiny red ‘L’ balloon that, together with the other letters, spelled out ‘LOVE.’ You may have seen photos of this, because pictures of us holding those balloons were on the front page of over 30 newspapers across the country that day – which I can’t even wrap my head around. As soon as the four of us lined up to spell out the word, paparazzi swarmed to take pictures. We just laughed and smiled for half an hour as we were bombarded with picture after picture. It was unbelievable.
Suddenly, as 10:00 hit, the media interns began tearing out of the Supreme Court and sprinting across the steps to where their staff was waiting - which meant that the decisions had been released. The air was electric as everyone held their breaths.
In that brief minute when those interns were running across the steps in front of the waiting crowd, they were holding untold history in the palms of their hands.
After a few seconds that felt like ages, a small cheer began in the media corner that very quickly escalated into a cacophony of noise as the good news spread throughout the crowd – WE HAD WON! In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court justices ruled that the right to marry is a fundamental right, regardless of the genders of the people involved.
It’s hard to describe the blissful madness that followed the announcement. Paparazzi cameras were going off left and right as they captured the raw emotion of a community that finally felt worthy under the law. Several chants began, including “USA!” and “LOVE WINS!” People were singing the national anthem and hugging their friends and kissing their partners and calling their parents. In that infinite moment, I could feel love and happiness as tangible webs connecting the supporters at the court that day. It was the most alive I’ve ever felt.
After awhile, those of us holding the balloons decided to let them go all at once. The L, O, V, and E balloons soared into the air and became distant specks in the sky. For me, letting go of that balloon represented the release of pent-up frustrations and feelings of worthlessness at having my potential love life constantly invalidated. Our community could finally let go of uncertainty and let love in, because the United States decided to give us the recognition we deserve. Love truly knows no boundaries, and this decision was a further expansion of love’s great reach.
After about a half hour of revelry, people began to climb the steps to get closer to the court. We weren’t technically allowed up there, but the security guard’s half-hearted attempts at restraint went entirely ignored. We all spread out beneath the court as the plaintiffs emerged to another bout of heavy cheering and chanting. The atmosphere was still charged with excitement and disbelief. We had won.
Later that night, after a day of celebration, a lot of us headed over to the White House to see it lit up for the very first time with a slew of rainbow lights in honor of the SCOTUS decision. We arrived just before sunset, so the lights were already on and a pretty large crowd had gathered.
For me, stopping in my tracks to take in those lights was the most emotional moment of the entire day. Seeing our country’s most iconic political landmark splashed with the colors that represent the pride of the LGBT community after a landmark Supreme Court decision was overwhelming and deeply touching. Having the support of your country after years of uncertainty is incredibly affirming and reassuring. I felt like I was witnessing a change in the tide of history and public opinion.
If we’re lucky, we all get to experience moments in life that are so good that we can’t believe we aren’t dreaming. This entire day was like that. A pure, unbridled happiness bubbled through me that made me feel like I was on top of the world. Somehow my life decided to lead me to interning in that city during that summer so that I could experience the events of that particular day in my own special way. It will easily, without a doubt, go down as one of the best days of my life. I will never stop being grateful for that.
As I finish this post, I would like to leave you all with a plea: Do not think this is the end. Marriage is a wonderful, miraculous victory, but the LGBT community has a long way to go before reaching full equality. We are still legally able to get fired for being ourselves in a majority of states. 40% of homeless youth belong to our community. Our transgender brethren get beaten and killed at alarming rates for being themselves.
Three years after this decision was made, in a Trumpified nation, we have to use this momentum as a force to carry us to complete and total victory over the discrimination many of us still face on a daily basis rather than let this serve as a false pinnacle of success. We have to love even louder than before.
We are far from finished. I cannot wait to see where we go next.
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