Every generation throws away its share of expired social norms. I believe the Millennials will be the first generation of 20-something Americans to usher in the right to same-sex marriage across a majority of states. In fact, I don’t believe I even know a single Millennial who actively opposes same-sex marriage. Unless they’re too timid to admit otherwise.
But four years ago, I wasn’t so sure. It was election night of November 2008. Six of us were crammed onto a ratty dorm room couch, watching coverage of California’s vote tallies. (I was into my sophomore year at USC.) Full disclosure – all of us were bracing for Barack. So when the presidential victor was announced, the apartment erupted into cheers. But amid the uproar, a different, devastating victory was confirmed. Proposition 8 – a controversial piece of legislation that effectively denied same-sex couples their constitutional right to marry in the Golden State – had received 52.4% of the state’s votes. For the first time that night, all of us were speechless.
The ultimate cruelty of Prop 8 was its callous bastardization of all Americans who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Not only were these Americans stripped of the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, but their very ability to love and pass that love forth through offspring was legislatively brushed off. Take a minute to think about that, especially if you’re a parent. How would you react if a majority of your neighbors suddenly declared that you were unfit to raise your very own child?
I can tell you how Los Angelenos reacted: they got angry.
The weekend after Prop 8 became a law, over 20,000 Southern Californians took to LA’s busiest streets and marched from Downtown to the epicenter of Hollywood. There was anger in the air, but also, some of the most profound solidarity I have ever experienced. The crowd was young, middle-aged, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered. you name it. I still remember looking back down Sunset Boulevard, going towards Silver Lake, and the river of people that filled the street. Most passing cars honked enthusiastically, and crowds gathered on the sidewalks to watch – or better yet, blend in. Nobody knew what was going to happen the next day, or the day after, but one thing was clear. This time, the old guard had gone too far.
The ensuing battle for equal rights – by way of nullifying Bill Clinton’s (yes, good ol’ Bill Clinton) Defense of Marriage Act – went to the highest offices in Washington. There, four couples effectively marginalized by Prop 8 stood before the Supreme Court as plaintiffs and made a case for their humanity. Their testimonies went viral. As of May 9th, 2013, researchers at the Washington Post found that 58% of Americans supported gay marriage. Narrow that field to Millennials, and the support rate rises to 70%.
The long weeks that led to a verdict on the constitutionality of DOMA and Prop 8 were laced with anxiety. But in the early hours of Wednesday morning, June 27, 2013, Justice Anthony Kennedy issued the court’s final decision. DOMA and thereby Prop 8 were rendered unconstitutional by a close vote of 5-4. Here are some of Kennedy’s choice words.
“[DOMA] humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”
If the day Prop 8 won led to an uprising, the day the law died ended in celebration. By virtue of this trip, I happened to be in LA once again, on that most joyous day. Everywhere I went, people were waving rainbow flags, tooting their horns, and running down sidewalks like kids after winter’s first snow. I witnessed multiple proposals (all of them said “yes”), took several couples’ photos in West Hollywood, and even had the privilege of attending a rally where leaders of the Human Rights Campaign – including Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and the Prop 8 plaintiffs – spoke to a jubilant crowd of thousands. Even as I headed back toward my lodging in Koreatown, the last flares of sunlight sinking into the Hollywood Hills, I could still hear cheers, honks, and fireworks all over the city. There was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been.
Yesterday will be cited in US history books. And the battle will continue onward to those stubborn states where same-sex couples are still denied their constitutional rights. My personal hope lies 50 years down the road, where upon telling my grandkids about the injustices their ancestors fought against – injustices that have been felt by members of my own family and many close friends – they’ll look up, frowning, and go, “What?!”
Millennials: let’s make it happen.