Kate Kendell

Fasten Your Seatbelts

Filed By Kate Kendell | May 15, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anniversary, gay marriage, marriage equality, Prop 8, same-sex marriage

Today is the one year anniversary of the California Supreme Court's groundbreaking ruling striking down the exclusion of same-sex couples from the right to marry. On the morning of May 15, 2008 I stood on the Supreme Court steps--with hundreds of others--and cheered, the Court's ruling clasped in my hand. The sun was bright, filling San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza with warmth rivaled only by the elation spreading across the faces of the joyous crowd. I was surrounded by plaintiff couples from our marriage case and our colleagues from Lambda Legal, the ACLU, Equality California, and Our Family Coalition. But what I will always remember--more than anything else--was the profound belief that life had changed forever for every LGBT person in the nation.

We are all familiar with the events that followed: the right-wing groups gathered enough signatures to qualify Prop 8 on the ballot, our long and arduous battle against their campaign of deceit and lies, and the devastating moment when--for the first time in California's history--voters used the initiative process to strip a fundamental right from a minority group

In the wake of that loss, the promise of lasting change, which I felt one year ago, dimmed almost to nothing. Yet now, a year and a huge setback later, our nation has undergone a sea-change in public attitudes and opinion. In the days following the passage of Prop 8, our community and allies banded together and held rallies and vigils attended by thousands; that energy has found life in new organizations and tireless new leadership. In the past few weeks we have seen a major shift as first Iowa, then Vermont, and then Maine embraced full equality and fairness. Just yesterday, Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire said that he would sign the marriage bill passed by the legislature in that state, making New Hampshire the sixth state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. New York and New Jersey loom on the horizon and public opinion is shifting massively in our direction.

The past year has been a glorious and crushing roller coaster--it has been a movement. A civil and human rights movement. While we do not know how the California Supreme Court will rule in our current lawsuit challenging the validity of Prop 8, we are fervently hopeful that the Court will once again embrace justice and equality for all. It is time for the insult that is Prop 8 to be struck down. California is now out of sync with the irresistible tide of awareness that it is not merely legally, but morally and socially, intolerable to relegate same-sex couples to anything less than full marriage equality.

Regardless of how the Court rules, we must all renew our commitment to finish this work--for all of us. Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

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christophe | May 15, 2009 5:51 PM

Not much has changed for LGBT rights in Atlanta, GA. I doubt they will ever allow same sex marriage in this state and many, many more as well. Until the federal government puts in a change, most state laws won't change a bit. That goes for employment, housing, marriage, military, taxes, hate crimes, etc.

Kate Kendell | May 19, 2009 12:01 AM


Yes---but. I do think we can see some very modest gains in some states. I'm from Utah--politically it sucks worse than Georgia and even there I think over the next decade we will see improvements. Certainly, the most significant issues must be settled at the federal level someday when we can win. Very hostile states will never make significant gains on their own, but even in Georgia we have won parenting cases, there are student clubs, there are more out LGBT folks in industry and politics...

I am a realist, but I also have seen enormous forward progress over the past 20 years. This is why it's called a "struggle". Don't let the bastards get you down.

Yup. Nearly half of the states already have constitutional amendments.

Besides the few undecided, I predict very few wins down the road outside of NE.

Kate Kendell | May 18, 2009 11:53 PM

I generally agree with this assesment Lucrece--hence my "fasten your seatbelts" reference. In some ways, the hardest work begins now--when we have some key wins, a nation which has certainly noticed us, and more engaged activists than ever before. We may not see many future landmark Court wins--but we can do much to improve the lives and futures of everyone in our community, if we roll up our sleeves and dig in.

Kate, while I understand that marriage is a big issue right now for most LGBT orgs, can you fill us in on what NCLR is doing to promote non-discrimination laws in places like Indiana that would cover housing, employment, public facilities, etc - those are more important to me than marriage.

Kate Kendell | May 18, 2009 11:46 PM

As you know Bill, this is not a zero sum game. Gains in one area generally benefit other efforts. For example, if it were not for the marriage wins and even the dialogue and fight to win marriage, we would not be seeing the gains in domestic partnership and civil unions. If we had not won previous battles over parenting and adoption, it is not likely that we would have ever won a marriage case or domestic partner protections. If we had not won safe schools protections, we would still have kids in the closet, instead of starting up gay/straight clubs--this lists go on. The fight in many states who will not win marriage soon, is to roll-back anti marriage measures and win even modest relationship protections. We also must and are, putting pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to move aggressively on the federal level where some important victories can be won. In every state there is something we can do to achieve some measure of justice and safety.

Agreed. It's not a zero sum game. I wasn't trying to be coy or snarky.

I know how involved NCLR has been in the marriage fight. I was just wondering if ya'll were in the business of working on employment, housing and public accommodations protections too. It's okay if you're not - marriage is a big battle that takes a lot of time and energy. But I know how effective NCLR has been on the marriage fight (Hell, Shannon Minter alone has carried more than his share of the water!) and I was hoping some of that determination, good luck and hard work ethic would also be brought to bear on those issues. I just wanted to know if you had other projects to support other than marriage. :)

colored queer | May 18, 2009 2:28 PM

Actually, Kate, no life for me a queer person of color has not changed a bit so please do not speak on behalf of "all" lgbt people especially those of color. LGBT people of color continue to experience racism within the white dominated gay community and face an uphill battle with good old gay boy/girl network to open up to people of color and not just for a few "tokens" of color. So, lets hear from you directly what NCLR has done to uplift the lives of LGBT people of color beyond its excellent advocacy on marriage issues for white gays. What has been done to promote LGBT people of color leaders? What has been done to hold gay orgs accountable that kill diversity? What has been done to create more employment opportunities for LGBT people of color at top levels in gay community and break those networks of white gays who have been major beneficiaries of the movement? What has been done to put out more people of color in the LGBT movement in line with changing demographics in this country? What has been done to acknowledge and address the deep seated racism in gay orgs? What has been done to address the high unemployment and incarceration rate of minorities including LGBT people of color in this country? If NCLR or other national gay orgs haven't done anything on those issues, these groups should at least qualify their statements to indicate that they only speak on behalf of white gays who may feel "uplifted" by their advocacy on marriage issues even after that dirty, little secret of racism within white gay orgs got exposed in the aftermath of prop 8.

Kate Kendell | May 18, 2009 11:36 PM

I never meant to suggest that winning marriage alone is the end of our struggle. But in the years of legal advocacy we have done—primarily for poor and working-class queers--it is clear to me that being seen by the larger society as legally and culturally equal, and ending discrimination in our relationships, is a huge step forward. Gains in previous civil rights struggles occurred in part because our common humanity came to be better appreciated by those who had accepted white supremacy as a given rather than an enormous detriment to a just and progressive society. Any effective strategy for LGBT equality must be grounded in a broad social justice fight. This commitment is why NCLR has projects focused on legal services for poor LGBT folks, legal advocacy on behalf of LGBT migrant farm workers and have invested years of work on behalf of LGBT immigrants and those seeking asylum in this country. Racism, sexism, classism and homophobia are all alive and well—and LGBT liberation is inexorably linked to eliminating every prejudice which dehumanizes our community.

Kate Kendell | May 19, 2009 1:35 PM

I guess I just should have answered your question more directly. I didn't want to appear self-serving. But, yes, NCLR has been doing work on a whole range of issues--employment, custody, adoption, youth, elder and immigration law, and domestic partnership and relationship recognition for 25 years before we ever got involved in the California marriage case. Even while the marriage work has been moving, we have litigated housing, employment, school, custody and immigration cases. We have won cases on behalf of athletes denied scholarships or kicked off teams because the were gay--and in most of these cases our clients are also of color. We have won 14 of 14 asylum cases. We settled a housing case--in Florida of all places--on behalf of an elderly lesbian couple. And in just the past 20 years we have won dozens of custody and adoption cases. We are your full-service LGBT law firm. ;) http://www.nclrights.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issue_overview