Bishop Gene Robinson was the first openly gay priest elected as a Bishop in historic Christendom. He recently retired as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire and works as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C.
Marriage for same-sex couples has had its day in court. Two days, to be precise. And now the hard part –the waiting –begins. The Supreme Court will announce its rulings in late June regarding marriage for gay couples in California (and possibly beyond) and the fate of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
It was not lost on this person of faith that the Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality took place during the season of Passover for Jews and Holy Week for Christians. Was it coincidence, providence or simply God’s divine sense of humor, that these hearings would overlap with the greatest story of oppression-to-freedom ever told, reenacted at every Seder table? Would the justices find any connection between the Holy Week/Maundy Thursday edict from Jesus to “love one another” and the pleas for justice and respect from LGBT citizens? Time will tell.
What did the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community learn during the two heady days of hearings before the nation’s highest court?
We learned that the support for marriage equality is widespread in America, and we learned that we have unprecedented support from heterosexual allies across every demographic and societal stratum. Amazingly, I stood speaking to the cameras with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, a Super Bowl champion who has “no dog in this fight” except a desire to see justice for all. My daughter, Ella, spoke to the crowds about equality for her family and for the more than 2 million other children being raised by LGBT parents. One by one, members of Congress are “coming out” in support of recognizing the love expressed in the relationships of this nation’s gay and lesbian couples, putting justice and equality ahead of political calculus.
We learned that justice doesn’t happen in singular moments, even those dramatic moments when the highest court in the land considers redress of our grievances. Justice delayed is justice denied, but justice takes time. Justice happens over time, seeming to flow like cold molasses to those who wait and long for it. It requires patience, resilience, and a commitment to the long haul. Injustice that’s been around for a very long time doesn’t give ground easily, nor is it undone in the blink of an eye. Those wanting a quick fix will be sorely disappointed, tire quickly and become angry and cynical.
We learned that we need to celebrate moments of hope amid the years-long struggle for equality. Tuesday and Wednesday’s rallies in front of the Supreme Court were more celebratory than angry, more hopeful than despairing, by and for a class of citizens long denied their equal rights. Justice seemed to be in the air, barely beyond our reach at that moment. But now, the reality sets in. Nothing at all changed this week – not yet. Not as much as we would like to be changed will in fact be changed, no matter what the Supreme Court rules. But whatever does change will bring us one step closer to the reality of the equality we seek. And we’ll keep coming back to the Supreme Court and other halls of power until equality for LGBT citizens of this great nation is a reality and we achieve the “liberty and justice for all” promised in our Constitution and other founding documents.
Most of what I’ve learned about being a part of a movement toward justice I learned from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. It’s not that the quest for equality by African-Americans is exactly like our quest for LGBT rights – it’s that I find such inspiration for the “long haul” in the heroic, selfless and courageous acts of African-Americans during that turbulent time, and since. They experienced huge setbacks along their way; they faced firehoses, snarling dogs and sometimes death itself; and they kept going into the streets anyway, because they were in this fight for the long haul, until real justice and equality became a reality. Just because Jim Crow laws came off the books, it did not mean an end to racism, prejudice and hate. Neither will the achievement of marriage equality end all prejudice and animus against gay people. It will require good and hard work over many years to come. Just ask our African-American brothers and sisters.
Let us, the LGBT community and our straight allies, learn from our brothers and sisters in other civil rights struggles, that justice takes time, resilience and sustained commitment. Whatever the rulings of the Supreme Court in June, there will be much work to do, requiring of us both patience and tenacity.There are places where it is still legal to fire someone simply for being gay; there remain harsh health disparities for our community; and because of hateful rhetoric from religious leaders and other opinion makers, we still have LGBT young people jumping off bridges.
We are up to the task; our enemies are sounding more and more shrill and unreasonable; our progress has an undeniably forward momentum. But for now, after two days of light being shown on our plight, we should celebrate this moment. And then we should get back to work!