This is what I think of when I think of marriage equality:
I remember when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom, and that it was the only episode of that show I ever watched, because the hype was so great, and the stakes seemed so high. Because this was 1997, one year before Matthew Shepard was killed, one year after the Defense of Marriage Act passed--the act that currently bans federal benefits for 130,000 legally married gay couples.
All I remember from that famous episode is the big climactic moment, the moment Ellen's character says the words, "I'm gay," and does so, quite by accident, into an airport microphone. I was 13 and terrified, as many teenagers are, not only of homosexuality but sexuality itself--it didn't matter who was attracted to whom, it was all scary. But the pure genius of Ellen's "big reveal" was its humor--the way the publicity of it all suddenly seemed so unwarranted. As in, oh, she's gay? Okay, great. Do we care? Probably not. This idea -- that in the end, our sexuality really only affects ourselves and our partners -- came as a huge relief to me.
When I think of marriage equality I think about alliance. I think about my friends who have same-sex partners. I remember the gallantry of Gavin Newsom, and how in 2004 it felt like he rode into San Francisco and bestowed it with this great big wand of love, though of course it was much more complicated than that. And how wonderful it felt, one year into the second Iraq war, to feel like that despite it, and despite so much, real human progress was being made. People were being "awarded" rights that should have been there in the first place.
I remember my favorite college professor driving upstate to marry her longtime partner in San Francisco. I remember my parents' friends, activists who had been together for decades, trekking to City Hall to pledge their love to each other.
I remember living in San Francisco in 2008, and how all the houses on my block had No on Prop 8 signs except for one. That house kept its windows open and propped its big YES sign right opposite my bedroom window. The word had been misappropriated. It never makes sense to say YES to something that is, in its very essence, a big, ugly NO.
I think about marriage equality and I focus on that second word. We can argue back and forth on the definition of "marriage," but when it comes down to it, equality is, and must be, universal. Civil rights are non-negotiable. Who you choose to spend your time with, who you love, who you own a house with, who you have children with, who you take care of, who takes care of you -- this is what makes up life. This is the good stuff. This is what we all fight to protect. This is not what defines commerce or religion. It seems arbitrary to decide that some couples are entitled to the legal and financial protection afforded by marriage, and some are not.
I think about marriage equality and I think, we should be there by now.
Or perhaps, maybe we're nearly there.