November 6, 2012: All day an uncontrollable energy has pent up inside of me, wondering if tonight I would get to see, alongside a community of others, if Maryland would be the first state to show the world with our voice and our vote that we believe in equality for all human beings, not just some. I couldn’t shake the amazing piece of history that was being shaped today, right before our very eyes.
And I was thrilled to be able to spend it in community. I headed over to Baltimore SoundStage earlier this evening to attend Marylanders for Marriage Equality’s Election Night Watch Party. Although I began the night alone, I ended it in full embrace. I meandered in and made my way toward the bar, pretending to be interested in the free drinks. I struck up a conversation with a woman next to me who had “volunteer” written on her name tag. I asked her how she got involved with the campaign and she shared a bit about having family members who are gay. Then she asked about my story. Tears I didn’t know were inside of me leapt from my eyes, as if confident that they were safe here, welcomed here, understood here. I shared the impact of people I’ve gotten to know from the LGBTQ community, but namely that someone who’s touched my life had shared that they almost committed suicide as a result of the retaliation they suffered from being mocked for their sexuality. “How many more deaths or how much more bullying does it take in order for us to decide that we must pay attention to this and that this matters?” I asked my new-found friend.
I browsed the room. It was, dare I say, holy ground. Love was everywhere. Men and women who are gay, women and men who are straight, families with children came together and hugged and smiled and said hello to one another, even to the girl like me who felt like a pariah, out of place with no one to celebrate with. Instead of feeling socially inept, I was welcomed in with open arms by so many people. “Melissa,” one of them said. “We just want to collect you.” I laughed, smile spreading from one corner to another. “What do you mean?” “Come to our gatherings, come to our parties, come hang out us.” Come. What an invitation. What a word of inclusion. What a picture of love. I smiled. “You all are the people I’ve been waiting to meet!” I shared, sensing that my friendships were expanding with more diversity, acceptance and freedom.
The night continued to shine, all because of people who decided to come together. I was humbled to hear the stories of people and their journeys. A woman who identified as bisexual shared her experience of finding a Catholic faith community that fully supports her journey and the LGBT community at large. People who worked tirelessly for months of campaigning because this is what it took in order for two consenting men or women to be able to marry in our state. People who had to FIGHT just to begin their marriage. I imagine that love must mean an awful lot, because it cost something. I’m not sure if all straight people have experienced such an ardent love that was willing to face rejection of friends, family, society to walk down an isle; that was willing to stand in lines to rally in order to earn their marriage license; that was willing to sign petitions, pledge support, and advocate to government to earn their wedding rings; that had to wait for the majority of opinions of the entire state of Maryland to approve of their marriage just to be able to say a legally-recognized “I do.” This kind of love costs something; but for the ones willing to pay the cost and fight the good fight, I’m sure they have tasted of a love that cannot be separated or severed after working so hard just to sign a piece of paper recognizing their union.
We continued to watch the election coverage vigilantly. The gap for question 6 was narrowing. It was always slighty ahead until a moment of a 50 50 split- 50% for, 50% against. I cringed. So did my new-found friends.
But a couple hours later, as Governor O’Malley, who signed marriage equality into law in Maryland on March 1, 2012, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, and Union members of SEIU 1199, and staff from Marylanders for Marriage Equality got up on stage, a twinkle in my heart jittered in anticipation, as we heard for the first time: “Maryland is the first state in this country to vote in equality to all families!” Oh yes, we hooped and hollered and hugged and high-fived and kissed loved ones and embraced one another as we officially became one of three states in the nation to vote-in marriage equality that night, with Minnesota standing closely beside us as they voted down Amendment One, which would have altered the state’s constitution to define marriage solely been one woman and one man.
Silver, gold, and black balloons fell from the ceiling like New Year’s Eve confetti- a dawn of something new, unprecedented, and long-anticipated. The couple next to me hugging almost brought me to tears. A woman behind me who shared some of her story with me started crying. I started crying. And we hugged each other. Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Gov. O’Malley spoke with such passion as they expressed the progress we’ve made since 1996, when a house delegate official tried to push marriage equality through, but needed state police protection for a week due to receiving death threats. Yes what progress we’ve made. What progress we have left to make. But if for tonight, in that moment, it was worth it all to just stop right there and celebrate as Kool and the Gang took over the speaker system, bringing us all into dancing and echos of, “woo hoo!” [it’s a celebration.]
There is something beautiful when we preach and practice inclusion. No one gets left out. Everyone finds that there’s room at the table.
Yes, we were simply moving forward with the loving and the accepting. All I could think about was that this must be a fragment of what Heaven is like: where there is nothing you can do but shout, cheer, whistle, scream from the top of your lungs in enthusiasm because a group of people have been brought from exclusion to inclusion. From outsiders to insiders, together, inside a big circle of love. From the edges and the fringe to the spot out there in life that’s warm and free and insists, “Come on in! You belong! There is more than enough room for everyone!” And any movement to block that room and elbow someone out of the circle is a movement backwards, against love.
As Stephanie Rawlings Blake declared, “This is the civil rights issue of our time.” I fully believe that.
And I fully believe that in 50 years from now, I will never, ever forget this night. The untainted hope. The sense of victory in the fight. The sense of little old me finally having courage to voice my opinions, convictions and experiences, despite spending years feeling restrained by the noose around my neck that was silently choking my voice so that I couldn’t speak out without hearing “I’m wrong.”
I don’t care anymore about being “right” or “wrong” in others’ eyes. I think there’s a few who think I’ve jumped off the deep end. Truth is I have. See, I cliffjump occasionally and there’s this feeling you get as your feet leave rock and enter air and then water, a feeling of freedom. Of reckless abandon to trading in all the “approved-of” responses of what we’re ‘supposed’ to say for an enthusiastic “Amen!” to constant exploration and “yes!” to life meeting mess at the exact moment it collides with it’s counterpart, joy. Of “yes” to a life that is constantly being remade, evolved, as we grow stronger and wilder everyday into the full and abundant life that is out there, if you want it.
History is being made.
We are writing it in ballot check marks,
forming it with held hands, tight embraces,
coloring it with flags of every hue,
speaking it into existence with our very hearts.
And one day as we gather around the table, recalling this story, I will hold the dry pages, crinkled up at the edges from old tears, smile, and tell you the story of a night in Maryland when danced underneath a clear sky, shouting, “We are family…”