I Don’t Know How to Celebrate My Civil Rights

Sarah Gilbert
Written by Sarah Gilbert

The text messages started blowing up my phone just after 10 a.m. in the morning. I was talking to a colleague and started to feel a sense of panic mixed with distraction and annoyance as alerts went off all around me. Was our company email on the fritz? Did my daughter vomit at summer camp? Was the building on fire? 

I checked my Facebook feed. Pictures of the Supreme Court and rainbow flags loaded one after another in a frenzy of news headlines and virtual cheering. The majority in the United States Supreme Court had just declared marriage a civil right. It was a historic moment, but I had another meeting to attend. I dialed the conference number and tried to focus on the topic at hand: Hiring people in a tight employment market, but my mind wandered and so did my mouse. 
 
After I got off the phone I called my wife. 
 
“I can’t believe you didn’t mention the Supreme Court ruling when you called me earlier,” she said, feigning an accusatory tone.
 
“I never follow the law,” I said.
 
“It’s a big deal,” she said.
 
“I know.” 
 
But it didn’t feel like a big deal. Or maybe it didn’t feel like a big deal TO ME. I still didn’t have anything for lunch. I had four more meetings to go to before the end of the day. And I was tired after returning home from a business trip in a thunder storm the night before when I pretended that being jolted around in my airplane seat was part of the special effects of the X-Men movie I was watching.
 
It was just another day. But it was also a day where now everyone, at least in America, had declared that I was equal. According to the highest law of the land, my relationship, the one that I had been in for 16 years, was now just as legitimate as the ones that you see on The Bachelor and the ones where a 92-year-old man dies of a broken heart because his wife of 70 years has passed. We were all the same now.
 
“Congratulations!” said one friend.
 
“Awesome!” said another.
 
“Thinking of you guys on this historic day,” said the next.
 
I love to feel considered. I love to be included. As a child, I felt left out long before I understood that I wasn’t on the typical side of the sexual orientation spectrum. Maybe I should celebrate, I thought. I’ll buy a cake or drink an extra glass of wine with dinner. But the victory had a hollow quality because it wasn’t mine. My victory was going to my job in the late 90s and telling my boss that I had a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend. My victory was signing up for medical benefits for my partner after she quit her job in 2003. My victory was standing up to a fertility clinic when they told us that we weren’t qualified to be parents.
 
The person deserving congratulations Friday was not just me. It’s the person who is reconsidering what it means to be married. It’s the person who sees their spouse as an equal instead of an acquisition. It’s the person who sent me a note stuffed with feelings of relief because our government is finally representing how many of us have felt all along. It’s all of us, who are celebrating the slow end of a hateful era. We shouldn’t be celebrating marriage equity, so much as marriage civility. 

The most important statement in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion is this: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod­ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be­come something greater than once they were.” 

I have never been a huge fan of marriage. I fully support the right to not marry or to get divorced. Marriage can be a bad excuse to stay in a destructive relationship. And at one time in my life, I thought I would never get married.  But eventually, it seemed irrational not to, so we tied the knot last September in part because our accountant told us to. But before I succeed in convincing you that I’m an unsentimental hag full of sour grapes, let’s get back to my original point. This week the Supreme Court justices made marriage just a little bit less about property and power and a little more about compassion. This ruling is a win for humanity.

Marriage is about love.
 
Marriage is about devotion.
 
Marriage is about sacrifice.
 
And marriage is about family.
 
We should celebrate laws that recognize not just our equality but our humanity. This civil rights ruling truly embraced civility for all of us. 

About the author

Sarah Gilbert

Sarah Gilbert

Sarah writes with sarcasm about science, gender, feminism and fertility issues on her blog sarahanngilbert.com. She is writing a memoir about her experience becoming a parent. Sarah lives in Denver with her wife, two girls and an ungrateful dog. If she had more free time, she would spend it lobbying the state government to make down vests and flip-flops the official uniform of Colorado. You can talk to her on Twitter @sarahanngilbert.

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