all you need is love — and rage
On March 3, 2004, I was out to dinner with some friends, preparing to give a talk at a local bookstore. Sitting next to us in the restaurant were two distinguished looking men (read: middle aged) wearing black dress suits and looking really, really happy.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask them.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Did you just get married?”
They’d been together for 18 years. They were at the county courthouse the very morning Multnomah County caught the early wave of legalizing same-sex marriage.
It was one of those peak moments, when everything seems joyous and filled with light. When even a Dr. Buzzkill can believe — not just feel — that everything can be right in the world. The thought of their smiles, and their eager answers to my question, their happy inclusion of me into an important moment in their lives and our history, it all still brings tears to my eyes.
When the server came back I told her the guys’ happy news. (My dinner partners had given up on me at this point.) She pointed to two young women sitting at the bar.
“They just got married, too!”
The women were as different as you can imagine from the guys. They were young, pierced and styled in grunge. But they had the same angelic chorus aura around them. I went up to congratulate them. They’d been together just about a year, but had never spent one day of that time apart.
My big brother, who lives in Israel, is smart and well read and politically savvy. He’s cynical, like me, but understands first hand what it means to go to war, what it means to be under attack, what it means to live a life much less cushy than the one I’ve been privileged to have here in the US. I tell you that so you’ll have context for this next statement: During the second Intifada, when bombs were falling blocks from our family’s homes, he said to me, “I still believe that love is the most powerful force in the universe.”
And he is right.
None of us really expected the legal right to same-sex marriage would last, at least not immediately. And sure enough, Multnomah County along with other cities and states around the country quickly retrenched and outlawed it again. Oregon voters went on to pass a constitutional amendment specifically retracting the right of gay citizens to marry the love of their lives. (I made countless phone calls before the election, begging people not to diminish our state by enshrining discrimination in our constitution.) So did the citizens of California.
Which is why I’m writing today. Because today love and law and rage conquered. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today said you can’t take rights away from one specific group of people — that’s called discrimination.
The court’s Judge Stephen Reinhardt summed it up this way:
“Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”
You’ll hear that this ruling was intentionally narrow and doesn’t apply nationally. That’s a smart move, given the current Supreme Court. And same-sex marriage is still on hold in California until the Supremes choose their next step.
But the wave is rising, and eventually love will conquer. New York City, Washington DC, the states of Massachusetts and Vermont all recognize same-sex marriages. Washington state’s legislature is poised to follow suit, as are many other places despite the nation’s general rightward death march. Even Oregon will return to sanity.
Because my big brother, with his great and shining heart even in the face of hatred and bombs, is right. As folk singer Danny Dolinger puts it in his song Dollar and a Quarter, “Look me in the eye and tell me, how can you say no to love?”
p.s. I proudly officiate weddings.