Earlier this month, on a Friday afternoon, something happened that feels like a weekly occurrence these days: a judge struck down a state marriage discrimination amendment, ruling that denying gays and lesbians the freedom to marry is unconstitutional.
As an LGBT blogger in the post-Windsor era, I’ve covered stories like this more times than I can count. But this time was different, because the state whose marriage ban fell was Wisconsin, the place where I was born and raised. While every single one of these court victories is an exciting experience, there’s nothing like when it happens in your own state.
My husband Michael and I, both Wisconsin natives, married each other in 2006, a time when there was no place in the country where same-sex couples could marry unless they lived in Massachusetts. Alas, we were Wisconsin college students, so we literally had to leave the country in order to pledge our lives to each other. That spring break, instead of taking the stereotypical trip down to Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach, we packed up our aunt Mary’s car, drove to Toronto City Hall and said, “I do.” It was the best day of our lives.
No sooner had we returned to Wisconsin, though, than we were thrust into a bitter fight against a marriage discrimination amendment that would be on the ballot in the fall. Wisconsin law already prohibited same-sex marriage, but opponents of equality in the Badger State wanted to enshrine that bigotry into the constitution. The newlywed glow hadn’t even worn off and we were knocking on doors, making phone calls, organizing and speaking at rallies, and conversing about the amendment with everyone we could possibly think of. It felt terrifying and desperate – like we were almost begging the people we’d grown up with and gone to school with and lived with for our entire lives: “please don’t erase our marriage.”
But the amendment passed anyway, despite our efforts and those of so many others. The morning after the vote I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I remember walking down the street, talking with people on the phone, and wondering in back of my mind: did this person who just smiled at me on the sidewalk, who wished me good day, just vote to insult and hurt and ban the single most important relationship I’ll ever have in my life?
I’ll never forget how demoralizing, how profoundly humiliating, that felt, although if I had to guess, I’d say that LGBT people in the dozens of other states where similar anti-marriage measures have passed – including Florida in 2008 – probably can relate.
So when that Wisconsin ruling came, all those memories came flooding back: the joy of our wedding, the sting of the amendment, the way it galvanized Michael and me and so many others to stand up and fight back for love and equality. Almost eight years after Wisconsin voters passed the marriage ban, it had finally been exposed for what it is: malicious, hateful, and unconstitutional.
The judge in Wisconsin did not immediately stay her ruling, so marriages began right away. For the next seven days my Facebook news feed was full of wedding announcements, photos, and relationship status updates from LGBT people in Wisconsin, including many of my friends. My heart leaped with joy to see their smiles, their happy tears, the loving hugs of their families, and the wide-eyed excitement of their children. And I experienced the concept of “pride” in a new and deeper way: I was proud of how far Wisconsin and the country had come, proud that there were now legally married same-sex couples in my home state, and proud of the way people I knew and loved were helping to build a better, more equal future for the next generations of LGBT people – just by saying “I do.”
While the expected stay came one week later and temporarily halted further weddings, that sense of pride did not diminish. After all, marriage discrimination in Wisconsin is now on its last legs, and the state finally has its first taste of marriage equality. And with a slew of court cases working their way through the system in states across the country – including in Florida – it’s only a matter of time before marriage discrimination is relegated to the dung heap of history where it belongs and the freedom to marry is the law of the land.
For that reason and so many others, I have pride.