Time … and Winning … Does Heal all Wounds
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Time … and Winning … Does Heal all Wounds

June 2014

Kate Kendell

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The passage of Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, was the worst moment of my career. I laid awake on election night sick with a version of the feeling of grief that gripped me when my parents and brother died. I now recognized that the fog I maneuvered in for the next several months was a soul-crushing depression.

What a difference six years makes.

Especially since over the past six years, Prop 8. is shredded in federal courts, and in the court of public opinion, the movement to win the freedom to marry has catapulted to a place of near inevitability nationwide, and the general acceptance, support and embrace of the basic humanity of LGBT people is now widely regarded as a core American value. Few of us saw this coming.

I will never be one to say that the passage of Prop. 8 in November 2008 was a good thing. But it is clear that the national reaction to that insult galvanized and electrified a new generation and complacent generations to stand up and push back. In November 2008, the nation made history, first, with the election of President Barack Obama, and second with a new and insurgent wave of activism and engagement on behalf of the rights and liberty of LGBT people across the country.

The federal challenge to Prop 8 brought by Ted Olson, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and David Boies, of Boies Schiller & Flexner, and the ensuing trial exposed our opponents as trafficking in stereotypes and pandering to prejudice. The demise of Prop. 8 on standing grounds by the U.S. Supreme Court last June meant that never again could the right to marry be taken away in the most populous state in the country. Finally, the California State Supreme Court ruling extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, litigation led by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and joined by our legal colleagues Lambda Legal and the ALCU, was now the law. California, once again, and for always this time, was a marriage equality state.

But wait, there's more!

This month last year the U.S. Supreme Court also struck down section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and that sweeping ruling has paved the way for an unbroken run of 17 federal and state court rulings from courts in places you might not expect: Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Idaho, Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

This is not a list of states known for being at the vanguard of civil rights. And in many ways that is the point. To support marriage equality is now mainstream, bi-partisan and shorn of an ideological imprint to a degree that is truly unprecedented. To support marriage equality is now simply fair, just and allegiant to the most basic constitutional promises. It is the right thing to do.

And it's not just marriage where the LGBT community has seen breathtaking progress. Last month the St. Louis Rams, my favorite NFL team as a kid, drafted Michael Sam, the first openly-gay player to ever be drafted by a professional sports franchise. This is a huge cultural milestone. It builds on countless others landmark moments. And all together they give great assurance that, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., our arc of history is indeed bending toward justice.

Kate Kendell is the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

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