By Susan D. Cocco
It did not happen as a result of the actions of the few. Nor did a band of renegade judicial activists occupy courthouses to rule in states from Hawaii to Massachusetts that marriage cannot be denied to a select group of citizens. Or that DOMA had to go. It did not hurt that the President was supportive. Or that companies achieve good business results with diverse talent pools, and good sales from LGBT consumers. Don’t ignore the fact that the Millennial generation wants to create opportunities, not narrow them, for all members of the community.
Not so long ago overt discrimination, civil rights abuses and bias against LGBT members of communities were widespread. Being an honest, open, homosexual member of the military got you discharged. Committed couples called themselves “roommates”, or “friends”. The shadows were full of gay men and women, young and old. They were the subjects of innuendo or much worse.
What it took to establish marriage equality, and enact countless (but not universal) non-discrimination laws in the US was sacrifice and action from the gay community and its allies. These allies, families, friends, organizations, business and political leaders, and others made it a priority to work together for justice and human rights.
In 1998, Ridgefield’s gay citizens were visible at the first, “Celebration of Community: Straight, Gay and Lesbian”, held on the Community Center’s lawn. Organized by local Democrats—Dave Goldenberg, Mark Robinson, this author and others–with the support of clergy, representatives of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay), then Congressman Jim Maloney, the Inside Out Players, Ruth Liebovitz, and Harvey Fierstein, the inaugural event brought out much more than its first 60 participants. It brought pride to Main Street. For several years after 1998, the event was held annually in June, swelling in size from the initial 60 to 200 participants. Public reaction was not uniformly positive, but Ridgefield’s gay pride was part of the human effort at state, federal and local levels leading to a brighter day. The speeches, songs, proclamations and prayers in our town joined those of others. Allies and friends insisted upon fair and equal treatment for all. Donors underwrote legal funds and advocacy groups so that vital work could be done. State Justices across the country, (CT, Kerrigan v Commissioner of Public Health, 2008), determined that gay and lesbian couples could not be denied the right to marry. Then the SCOTUS ruled on June 26 that, “No longer may this liberty be denied…” (Justice Kennedy).
That is how change occurs. We do things together. When you think about it, that is the very idea behind America, “we the people”. We the people take action and in the case of marriage, we “done good”.
Susan D. Cocco is Chair of the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which supplies this column.