June 21, 2013
This guest post, a personal reflection on the significant of the Proposition 8 case, was authored by an EqualityOnTrial community member who comments under the name ‘Bill S.’ Remember, if you would like to submit a guest post to be featured on the site, just drop us a line here!
By Bill Santagata
It is hard to imagine that it was more than four years ago that Hollingsworth v. Perry (then captioned Perry v. Schwarzenegger) was filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER). In many ways, Hollingsworth has been the background noise to my life, the past four years being measured in filings, orders, and court decisions, and the waiting in-between. Not one day has gone by (and there have been about 1,500 of them) where I have not logged on to EqualityOnTrial (or Prop 8 Trial Tracker as we used to know it) to consume the latest updates.
I distinctly remember the moment when I heard of each decision, at the District Court and then at the Circuit Court. For the former, the date and time the decision would be handed down was imminent so I signed up to receive an automated text message from AFER. I was doing a film internship that summer (of 2010) in Rhode Island, anxiously awaiting my phone to vibrate that afternoon. I remember picking it up when it did, hitting enter, and trying to contain my elation by the news.
But I knew that it would not be the final word, and that we would have to wait for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to weigh in. And when they did, in February 2012, I was in Paris getting my master’s in French literature, receiving the news on the metro, once again by text. It was not until the next day when I could read the decision. I was somewhat disappointed that it was a split vote, but a victory was a victory, and I held my breath hoping the Supreme Court would deny certiorari. Of course, they granted cert. this past October, held oral arguments in March, and here we are today.
Whatever may happen in the next week, I will be eternally grateful for all that Hollingsworth has taught me. Before this case began, I had little knowledge of the workings of our judiciary. How many of us four years ago would have known what “Article III standing” was? Or what an “en banc” decision meant? Or how many Supreme Court Justices it takes to grant certiorari—or what certiorari even is in the first place? From rational basis to strict scrutiny, Hollingsworth has taught me everything I know about the Equal Protection Clause, making me appreciate all the more my constitutional rights as a citizen of this country.
In these last moments of Hollingsworth v. Perry I think back on what I have learned but also on what I have witnessed. I remember how my feelings of joy for Obama’s 2008 electoral victory were quickly dashed by anger and contempt for the passage of Proposition 8 later that same night, hearing the raucous applause from my dorm room in New York City while seeing the demonstrations in the Castro on TV.
But since then, we have seen so much good: the legalization of marriage equality in eleven other states (including my home state of Rhode Island) by victory in the courts (the beautifully written unanimous decision in Iowa), the legislature (staying up past midnight, nails thoroughly bitten through, to watch the New York Senate live), and the ballot box (“they did it! they actually did it! in all four races!”). We saw Sean Penn win an Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk; we cautiously followed the gradual demise of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; we tuned in to YouTube’s live broadcast of “8” the play, laughing at John C. Reilly’s portrayal of bumbling witness David Blankenhorn. I am also proud to say that the first protest I ever attended was in front of New York’s City Hall against Proposition 8.
This has been quite the adventure, but there are unfortunately many who are not able to be there with us at its end. Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) was just a woman with a sign at the Christopher Street Liberation Day March in 1972: “PARENTS OF GAYS: UNITE IN SUPPORT FOR OUR CHILDREN” but she would go on to create one of the most supportive organizations for LGBT people and their families in the country. She died on January 8, 2013 at the age of 92. Frank Kameny was employed as an astronomer with the Army’s Map Service when he was fired during the “Pink Scare” in 1957. He fought his termination all the way to the Supreme Court, and although he was not victorious, he never stopped fighting, and it is in his steps that we continue today. He died on October 11, 2011 at the age of 86.
John Geddes Lawrence, Jr. was a medical technician from Texas who one day in 1998 found himself under arrest for having sex with another man. He would become the petitioner in the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas that would establish once and for all that being gay was not a crime (a decision that celebrates its 10th anniversarythis Wednesday). He died on November 20, 2011 at the age of 68. However, this long arc of justice was particularly brutal to Ed Watson, a California man who died of Alzheimer’s disease waiting to marry his partner of 40 years. His death was a sharp reminder of everything that is now at stake.
It’s been four years of excitement, nervousness, anticipation, and impatience. But overall it has been nothing less than an enjoyable and memorable experience. Like Frodo, I’m exhausted, eager to cast this ring into the fires of Mount Doom and be done with it all, yet nonetheless reluctant to let go of it, allowing it come to an end so suddenly. While this will not be *The* End, it is nonetheless the closing of a very important—and very long—chapter of a much greater journey. No matter how the ending to this chapter is written, we can take comfort knowing that we are in a better place today than when it started. “‘Go back?’ [Bilbo] thought. ‘No good at all!’ Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do!
On we go!”