A dozen years ago, still closeted at work, I stood nervously next to the office printer as it spat out the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas. As my coworkers went on about their day, I devoured every page of the decision, which overturned laws that make gay sex illegal, and for the first time allowed myself to believe that marriage equality could one day come to America. My belief was supported by a fuming Justice Antonin Scalia, who warned the ruling would usher in a new era of same-sex marriage. Happily, he was right.
And it feels fast, right? It was just seven years ago that Californians voted to pass Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage in the state. And yet today marriage equality is the law of the land. One of our big themes at The Verge is that the pace of change is accelerating. Companies rise, industries are overturned, the climate warms, and it all happens faster than before. Culturally, few shifts in public opinion have been as radical as opinions about same-sex marriage over the past 25 years. Every incremental victory brought about the next victory a little more quickly, and the rapid changes in media came even faster.
How did we get here? What is this story really about?
Every incremental victory brought about the next victory a little more quickly
It’s a story about an AIDS crisis that dragged gay people out of the closet and into the center of the national conversation, mobilizing them politically as they never had been before. It’s a story about broadcast media gradually bringing more gay characters to television: Pedro Zamora from the third season of The Real World. Ellen DeGeneres on her eponymous sitcom. Will and Jack, from Will and Grace, which dared to suggest there is more than one kind of gay guy.
It’s a story about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, where there were five kinds of gay guys. Once, you couldn’t count the LGBT characters on TV because there weren’t any. Today you can’t count them because you would almost certainly miss some. And it happened in a blink.
It’s a story about politicians and judges reacting to a cultural shift with varying degrees of open-mindedness. Of the Supreme Court of Hawaii, all the way back in 1991, finding a ban on same-sex marriage to be discriminatory. Of Anthony Kennedy, a conservative appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1988 by Ronald Reagan, writing a soaring defense of the dignity of gay persons in his decision in Lawrence v. Texas.
It's a story about gay interns at the Supreme Court
More than we will ever give them credit for, it’s a story about the gay interns at the Supreme Court who had the courage to come out to their bosses, and helped to change their minds.
It’s a story of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004, standing inside the same City Hall where Harvey Milk was gunned down, and ordering the county clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to people regardless of gender.
It is a story of states racing to ban same-sex marriage in their very constitutions, and of the movement for marriage equality somehow growing more powerful with every state that succeeded.
Lawrence v. Texas one year. Marriage in San Francisco the next. Constitutional amendments a few months later. And all throughout, a sense that something was accelerating.
All throughout, a sense that something was accelerating
It’s a story about social media, and the incredibly photogenic nature of people in love. It’s a story about videos going viral on YouTube and Facebook and even much-loathed Upworthy: brides and their brides, and grooms and their grooms, cheered on by their straight friends and family as they wept and hugged at the altar.
It’s a story about the brands that measured the engagement on those posts and realized the incredible organic reach they could achieve by slapping a rainbow on their content marketing, culminating with today’s announcements from Honey Maid:
And Smash Mouth:
It’s a story about Twitter mobs mobilizing at every sign of homophobia. Of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff leading a social media crusade against Indiana’s anti-gay discrimination bill. It’s a story about social media shutting down a homophobic pizzeria. And of Silicon Valley companies realizing they couldn’t attract or retain the best talent without being more inclusive.
It’s a story of Mark Zuckerberg, a straight person, changing his profile photo to this:
Media, entertainment, politics, internet — marriage equality is the story of all these things. It feels like our story. And it is a story we can now relish telling.
The story of marriage equality stretches back further than all this, of course. It stretches to the people who met in secret, under threat of arrest, just to discuss their own desires. It stretches to the police raids at New York’s Stonewall Inn, and to the brave men and women who fought back against the police.
A story that must stretch forward
And it’s a story that must stretch forward, too: to the transgender people who still face untold discrimination around the world. To the women still underrepresented everywhere, not least on the US Supreme Court. To the people of color who have inherited our country’s ugly legacy of racism, and who must fight every day to have their own dignity respected. The same forces that helped make marriage equality a reality have brought these issues to our attention, too. And yet we are still so far from justice on so many accounts.
But take a day to celebrate, and to reflect. The story of marriage equality is a book of many chapters, and today it is all but finished. Pour the champagne and enjoy the Pride parade. First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you.
Then you get married.