In light of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn DOMA and Proposition 8 today, I wanted to share my opinion piece I wrote after standing on the steps of the Supreme Court during the DOMA hearing. The Tenley Times reporters and I shared many special memories that day.This is an exciting time to be a young adult, an aspiring journalist, and a California citizen.
By: Alyssa Goard @AlyssaMGoard
November 4th 2008, I stepped onto the Foothill High School quad and was wide eyed to see girls who I respected proudly wearing yellow “Yes on Proposition 8” shirts with cutesy matching hair ribbons. I was a high school junior in the East San Francisco Bay Area and Proposition 8 was up for vote in California, proposing to prevent same sex marriage. I was baffled to discover that many students had starkly different opinions than I did about same sex marriage. My peers and I were too young to vote but certainly old enough to understand and be deeply affected by the outcome of Proposition 8, our opinions were starting to become our own rather than just the mouthpieces of our parents. Proposition 8 made the issue of sexuality visible in California at the time my high school peers and I were just starting to explore our own sexualities.
March 27th, 2013, I stood outside the Supreme Court during the hearings of the Defense of Marriage Act, the day after Proposition 8 had been heard in the very same place. As a 3rd generation resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, my life has been sculpted by living in a region known worldwide as a hub for the LGBTQ ( Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community. I watched as Proposition 8 passed in California the same time that President Obama won in the golden state with a 61.1% vote. I watched the confusion and debate amongst local politicians and community members as we in the Bay Area wrestled with our famously gay-friendly culture and the reality that we live within a state which denied same-sex marriage through public referendum in 2008. I fell in love with politics as the legality of Proposition 8 made its way to the federal courts and I began to understand the complexity of the issue of gay marriage as many of my peers and close friends were just beginning to “come out” publically.
My senior year of high school, I debated at the state level on my competitive civics team about the place of gay rights within the broader civil rights movement, my colleagues and I spoke about the Supreme Court’s power to alter Proposition 8 in hypothetical terms, “assuming this case is appealed to the Supreme Court, it has the potential to negate Proposition 8 on the basis of unfair discrimination.”
That hypothetical distant someday my competitive civics team spoke of has arrived with force, and I had the chance to follow California’s quest to resolve its position on marriage equality all the way to the nation’s capitol. I met many other Californians on the steps outside of the Supreme Court, including a friend of mine from high school debate who went on to be a rising leader in the California campaign for marriage equality.
Public opinion about same sex marriage has shifted significantly since the 2008 vote in California, according to a 2012 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, 54% of Californians favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, a significant increase from 2008 when only 47.9% opposed Proposition 8.
Proposition 8 is a public issue at heart, it was included on the 2008 ballot because it was promoted through public referendum and good ol’ signature gathering. But the problem with basing enduring law on public opinion is that public opinion can easily change. I go to Whitman College (renowned for having one of the most supportive LGBT college communities in the nation) in the state of Washington where Washingtonian voters proudly approved same sex marriage. As many of my progressive peers at my college point out, marriage equality is only one step in addressing the slew of burdens and inequalities which queer Americans experience. Like other civil rights issues, formal recognition of the right to a same sex marriage is just one de jure way of establishing a national commitment to addressing the inequalities which LGBT people face today, behaviors and minds will take infinitely longer to change.
The Supreme Court, the branch of government which, at its best, is the last bulwark against the ever tumultuous political tides in the country, holds this multifaceted issue of same sex marriage up to the light of our nation’s ethical code amidst a fire of visceral religious and personal reactions. The issue of love and a formal commitment of love strikes people to the core, regardless of their opinion. The appeals I saw in front of the Supreme Court were deeply personal, signs identified people who knew that their lives and families would be directly impacted by the court’s decision, humanizing an issue which has the potential to be relegated to economic and legalistic confines in the court.
As a young adult, my undergraduate years are almost behind me, and my peers and I are rapidly approaching an age where we will have to consider if we want long term, committed love to enter our lives and what that would mean for us. We are considering committed relationships with the expectations we face (college graduates being queried by relatives at dinner parties about how serious their romantic relationships are) and with our life choices – do I want to have kids? Do I want to have a partner to raise those kids with? Will we move in together? As my peers and I wonder about and define the parameters of our romantic commitment, we are especially aware of the weight which love and marriage hold.
The decisions reached by the Supreme Court and by the behavior of Americans towards sexuality and marriage in the future will make a statement about our national perspective on sexuality, and how much freedom and acceptance young adults like me will have in our journey to find love and personal identity.