You know you’ve become a part of the community when the woman you’ve been nodding hello to at the gym motions for you to take out your ear buds in order to say, “I just saw you on the news! You were at the Statehouse, right?”
That I was – and David, too, doing our bit for the forces of justice by rallying for marriage equality in Rhode Island, just as we did 11 years ago, for civil unions in Vermont.
That last time, the capital building in Montpelier was so packed the pros and cons – conveniently identified by the color of our pinned ribbons – pressed up against each other. The teams were evenly represented, the atmosphere civil but tense. When we signed up to testify, we identified which side we were on and names were drawn at random, alternating between columns A and B. We stayed late into the evening. My name never came up, but David’s did. A video of him arguing for protection of the rights of the minority is part of the permanent exhibit at the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier.
This year, the capital building in Providence got so crowded the doors were closed and an overflow crowd of a few hundred rallied outside. But there was plenty of room to walk around inside, where the pros, conveniently identified by our red clothes and our rainbow signs, outnumbered the more demurely dressed cons, with their “1 Man + 1 Woman” signs hung around their necks, at least 10 to 1. At least while we were there, for the marriage equality rally.
We held signs. I got a hug from my surprised hairdresser. A white haired man told David he was all for same-sex couples being legally recognized, but was offended by the notion of calling such unions marriages. David replied, “Your attitude offends me,” and then went on to tell him, “You are on the wrong side of history, sir, and the wrong side of morality.”
We didn’t stay for the hearing, but climbed to the third floor so David could turn in written testimony, adapted from a decade-old letter. I’m not sure what he said in his message. If I had testified, I might have said something about how lucky I feel to have been so happily married these 29 years, and how the sanctity of my union will be strengthened when marriage is no longer the exclusive privilege of the majority.
After he turned in his statement, we stayed on the top floor, peering over the balustrade to watch the spectacle below. The speakers’ words echoed unintelligibility off the marble walls, the garbled addresses periodically punctuated by cheers and applause. Grim groups of antis clasped hands and bowed their heads, their eyes squeezed shut in silent prayer.
Across the rotunda and one flight down, I watched a drama in pantomime. Two young men stood facing each other. One took the other’s hands in his. Gazing intently into his friend’s eyes, he delivered what was clearly a carefully rehearsed speech. His friend’s mouth opened in thrilled amazement. He took his hand away long enough to accept a tissue from a bystander and, laughing, wipe the tears from his eyes. He gave his response. They hugged, then kissed, then hugged again. A white ring box was produced, a ring slipped on a finger. More tears. Another long, swaying embrace as the cheers from the rally rang around them.
Happy Valentine’s Day!