As 8th-graders enter school this year, many, if not most, will have no first-hand knowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Thirteen years ago our country suffered an enormous blow, and its citizens took time to reflect on what it means to be an American, what it means to live in the “land of the free.” Our country rallied together in a way it had not since the boot-strap days of World War II. The years since the attack have been far from easy, as wars, politics, finance and culture have all been pushed and pulled on top of an already weary and wasted citizenship. But to the younger generation, they do not know a time before this climate. They do not know days before “Alert Levels”, intense TSA patdowns, and bloated talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC. Take a moment to recognize how short these 13 years seems to many of us, and how it must seem to them.
Now, let us take a moment to recognize how, not so many years ago, many “protected classes” were not so protected. Before you start to think that you, the majority, have the right to decide the legal merits and protection of a minority, let’s remember that you were probably recently the minority too, who had to have your rights protected and given merit.
It was less than one-hundred years ago, on August 18th, 1920, that women were granted the right to vote. Less than one hundred years ago, you too ladies, were second-class citizens. Being taxed without being represented. Even after the right to vote, it took another 43 years until women were granted equality in the workplace. A year later, in 1964, President Johnson signed into law a bill that made sure you had equal representation in work, in government, in law, in health, in housing, in all matters of life, liberty and happiness. That was 50 years ago this year.
Your parents or grandparents knew a time before 1964, when a religious minority could be fired for no reason other than their creed. They knew a time when racial segregation was not only allowed, but desired and fought for. They knew a time when your age, or your pregnancy, or your heritage, could get you fired. And they knew a time, as short as 47 years ago, younger than Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Madonna, that marriage as you know it today was illegal.
The definition of marriage, as it is being debated today, was similarly debated in 1967. Forty-seven years ago, states still had on their books anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited interracial marriage. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Whites, and others were not legally allowed to marry who they wished in the United States. It was, in fact, a felony to consummate an interracial marriage. And yes, people did go to prison for it. They also had marriage licenses denied, unequal protection under laws and were treated as second-class citizens simply because they loved someone of a different skin color. Thanks to the bravery of the courts, not the popularity of the people, all races were given the right to marry as they choose. It is hard to find people today who would still back this kind of oppression.
With those same glasses on, can we not see the same protection being granted today to alter the definition of marriage again? Why can two adults, who love each other, not be given equal protection under the law? If the opposition is based on your religious belief, our right to marry is protected from that religious belief according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If the opposition is based on the fact that it is a man or a woman marrying a man or a woman, our right to marry is protected from that gender discrimination according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is no civil legal reason that two consenting adults cannot enter in to a contract, based on their age, race, religion, gender or ability. To deny that is to deny the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed in to Public Law 88-352 (78 Stat. 241).
The same as your kids might not know a time before something as memorable as 9/11, you may not remember a time before something as memorable as “Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1” which allowed any race to marry. You may not remember 1919, when your mothers or great grandmothers, just like your gay brothers and sisters today, were being taxed without being represented. And you might not remember when your neighbors had marriage licenses denied, unequal protection under laws and were treated as second-class citizens simply because they loved someone of a different skin color. But you probably know someone who has had marriage licenses denied, unequal protection under laws and treated as second-class citizens simply because they loved someone of their gender, or the gender of their spouse. To ignore that, and carry on with fear or religious-based bigotry is to forget that you were probably once a legal minority too, and had to have your rights protected and given merit by courts and courageous people willing to stand up to an oppressive majority.
Once again, as a minority of American citizens who have been marginalized and tortured and murdered ask for the same civil legal protection as the majority, the rally effect needs to swell anew. May we all, remembering what it means to live in the “land of the free,” be brave enough to stand up for the minority and show our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters that a new day can bring a change, one that forces the fears & threats of today into the shadows of yesterday.