When you reside at the intersections of multiple identities, anniversaries of your civil rights struggles can be both bitter and sweet. And last week was a reminder.
At 12:01 am on May 17, 2004, the City of Cambridge was the first to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At 9:15 am, the first couple was married. Then-Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury said to Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish, “I now pronounce you married under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
That day was also the 50th anniversary of the historic US Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education, a ruling that upended this country’s “separate but equal” doctrine, adopted in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896.
While joy washed over me that day knowing my now-spouse and I could follow McCluskey’s and Kadish’s footsteps and be legally married, we could not rejoice over the limited success, huge failures, and ongoing resistance of “Brown” that allowed a few of us entry into some of the top universities of this country, as it continues to be challenged as a form of reverse discrimination.
On this year’s 65th anniversary of Brown, African Americans and Latinx Americans continue to attend not only segregated schools—whether here in Boston or across the nation—they also attend high-poverty urban ones with metal detectors. All as the school-to-prison pipeline continues to compromise young lives.
Where it was once thought that access to quality education would dismantle, for future generations, the pox of bigotry and ignorance that certain parents inherited, race and class, unfortunately, continue to be discriminating indices upholding not only “separate” school systems but also “unequal” treatment of students.
This May marked the 15th anniversary of marriage equality in the Commonwealth. Looking back at advances such as hate crime laws, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and DOMA, the legalization of marriage equality, and anti-homophobic bullying becoming a national concern, to name a few, the LGBTQ community has come a long way since the first Pride marches. I give thanks for these advances and for having had the opportunity to write Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who wrote the landmark decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the following note in 2016:
When I left for NECN (New England Cable News) on Friday I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would meet you there. And, of all things take a group photo with you and my buddies Sue O’Connell and Scott Kearnan. WOW! And, thank you!
The closest I came to meeting you was once many tables removed from the stage you spoke from as GLAD’s 2013 Spirit of Justice Awardee. A tsunami of thanks I send your way for authoring the Goodridge case, allowing me and so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters across this beautiful Commonwealth of Massachusetts to marry the person we love.
As an African American lesbian, there aren’t too many places in this country I feel protected by state laws. The Goodridge decision bestowed upon me full citizen-state rights that when same-sex marriage was legally recognized on May 17, 2004, I then began to proudly lift my voice and say, “I, too, am Massachusetts!”
This June will be the fourth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic US Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The ruling was a great day—similar, I surmise, to that day in June 1967 when the Supreme Court case of Loving v. the State of Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.
However, with victory comes backlash. Opposition to the SCOTUS decision went public with born-again Christian Kim Davis—the now infamous Kentucky County clerk who not only refused to issue marriage licenses to a same-sex couple but forbade her co-workers to do so as well.
Now, there is the talk among Christian evangelicals of walking back Obergefell v. Hodges “without disrupting other precedents on marriage.” As Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza wrote in an article titled “The End of Gay Rights” in the June 2017 issue of Pacific Standard Magazine: “The Supreme Court can significantly undermine LGBT rights even without reversing a single case. The Court can strip the rights to intimacy and marriage of their meaning, carving away gradually and masking the magnitude of changes by phrasing them in arcane legal terms.”
And last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in favor of Jack Phillips, the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds of religious freedom.
Again, over the years, I’ve learned that joy can share its space with sadness.
May 17 is always one of those days.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be heard on the podcast and standing Boston Public Radio segment ALL REV’D UP on WGBH (89.7 FM). Monroe’s syndicated religion columns appear and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. She is a s a Visiting Researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology.