“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17)
It was Tuesday, March 26th, 2013, the First Day of Passover and Holy Tuesday. The night before, I did not dream that soon I would be anywhere close.
And yet, here I was, in the back row of the Highest Court in the United States, absorbing it all, as one of the most publicized cases of our time transpired.
Though I call myself a writer, I have not been able to write about it until now. This experience was so big, so textured, so frankly…overwhelming that language cannot do it justice – excuse the pun. With that admission made, I will do my best to utilize words here, cumbersome as they are.
My spouse (only in New York State for now), Goldalee, and I decided to travel to Washington, D.C., to rally outside the Supreme Court, to help press the concepts of “equality” and “fairness” a step further into the collective consciousness.
First, though, there was to be an Interfaith Prayer Service early that morning, just yards from the Supreme Court steps. When we boarded the Human Rights Campaign bus in NYC at 3 a.m., we estimated we would arrive almost right on time. Well, what is that expression: “Men make plans – God laughs”?
In this case, two lesbians made plans, and that day, God howled.
Someone was painfully late to board the bus. About 25 minutes late, as I recall. Amidst soft grumbles and loud yawns, we waited. Then, at last, from what my sleepy vision registered, we were on the road and driving ever closer toward a more perfect Union.
Come sunrise, we arrived at our destination: Union Station. As Goldalee and I walked into the city with our new comrades, I experienced a thrill that danced through my entire body. I was brought back down to earth when Goldalee commented that we were now late to the interfaith service.
Though I deeply wanted to be with other people of faith, including one of our heroes, Bishop Gene Robinson, the Holy Spirit guided me elsewhere.
I felt pulled away from the service and we decided to stay put, trusting that something else was in store for us.
We stood in a line and soon found out from a SCOTUS police officer that we stood in a “public line.” Apparently, we were waiting for a chance to go into the Supreme Court. Upon learning this, if only for a moment, I felt weightless.
Over two hours later, the Supreme Court police officer began to hand out small slips of paper. Each pass allowed its recipient to gain public access into the Supreme Court for precisely 3 minutes. He handed them out to those who stood ahead of us…and then he hesitated upon approaching Goldalee.
Finally, he handed her two little, yellow pieces of paper. We were the last two to be granted access into our nation’s highest court that morning.
Suddenly, it all came into focus and I really “got” who I was.
Yes, I was a woman, a person of faith, an immigrant’s daughter, and a wife. Yet I was also a Native Californian and a U.S. citizen. I still could not marry my partner in my home state, nor be federally recognized as married in my own country.
I was about to watch the fate of my rights (and millions of others) being debated in a haven of (hopefully) justice.
At long last, we were admitted into the court.
And the 25 minutes that we had lost that morning, waiting in a bus, were miraculously offered back to us – for we sat, not for the allotted 3 minutes, but rather for 25 minutes in the court’s secular pews.
What an unanticipated blessing!
As we heard our heroic Ted Olson wrap up his closing arguments, as well as the Solicitor General’s pleas, and the Justices’ questions and remarks, one thing was made clear.
Most of the people in court that day were afraid.
Along with electricity in the air that some might call urgency, and a sense of hope, fear was also present, in the form of several visitors. One visitor was called, “Fear of the Unknown.” There was also “Fear of Uncertainty,” “Fear of Responsibility,” and yet another visitor called, “Fear of Change.”
Yes, the Goliath of Fear reared its many formed heads. Fortunately, the twin Davids (once adversaries, now brothers), Ted Olson and David Boies, stood up to him.
As we sat in the back of the courtroom, behind dramatically parted, heavy, red drapes, we barely restrained ourselves. We suppressed whispering, nodding, gesturing, and pointing, as we had been instructed against all emotive expressions. As I listened, though, an unexpected alchemy gradually took place within me; my outrage began to transform into empathy.
Even the most conservative of Justices’ comments, were strangely mirrors of my own fears, and of our collective fears.
Don’t we all, at times, fear what a fuzzy future can bring and dread the unknown? And don’t we all, at times, resist the responsibility that we must assume in order to move our country healthily forward?
Maybe the real fight here isn’t for our human rights. Maybe the real aim is to turn fear into love. We know all too well how fear can tear us apart from one another, and make us turn against ourselves. And we all, also, know what a challenge it can be to undo the effects of fear.
At the heart of this political battle and legal process is not actually overturning Proposition 8, or legalizing Gay Marriage. Obviously, these are important goals, and they are not to be minimized. Yet if one looks deeper, one finds that the following is what lies at the heart of all relevant matters:
At the heart of the matter is: choosing love over fear, even as fear beckons us downward, into the comfortable kingdom of delusion.
Court was adjourned. The justices had spoken, and the gavel’s strike was heard. It was time for us all to leave.
As we approached the coat-check room, we passed Chad Griffin (the sponsor of the federal court challenge of California’s Proposition 8 and the current Executive Director of HRC). Although we wanted to respect his space, Goldalee and I also wished to thank him.
As he was on his way to a press conference, on the majestic steps outside, we seized the moment, and greeted him. “We came here on the HRC bus,” we shared with this national figure of gay rights, and asked how he felt about what “happened in there.”
“Cautiously optimistic,” Mr. Griffin replied, as he politely excused himself. We felt relieved by his sincere and uplifting assessment of the situation.
Yes, caution is appropriate amidst fear’s multifarious guises, but so is optimism.
How could this be so?
Optimism is appropriate, because when fear has a good plan, love has a great plan. Just when you think that you are going to see Bishop Gene Robinson, you may end up “rubbing elbows” with the God who sent him. And you may even experience holy empathy.
Somehow, holy empathy can emerge in a court, not only of law, but I pray, also of liberation.
May we seek to liberate ourselves, and each other, from fear and its poisonous consequences. For what could be more just—and nobler—work than that?