By Victoria L. Kidd; Member, ACLU of Virginia Board of Directors and client in the ACLU of Virginia’s successful litigation challenging Virginia’s constitutional and statutory marriage bans (Harris Class Action)
People always want to know what it was like. When they learn that I was a plaintiff in a marriage equality case, they almost always want to know what it’s like to shoulder such a responsibility and what it’s like to open your life to the scrutiny of others—not just those in your hometown, but people from the world over.
There is no easy answer to that question. As a writer, I am intimate with words, and yet, they seem to writhe and escape when I am faced with that inquiry. What was it like? I’m not sure anyone who has seen their name on the plaintiff’s side of the “v” (for versus) can really articulate an answer that truly explains it. It’s painful, humbling, terrifying, inspiring, and a half a dozen other things all at once. It’s an experience that brands itself on your spirit, and only those who share the experience can truly understand how it transforms you.
That brand makes me a small part of the marriage equality movement, but it must be said that my service as a plaintiff afforded me the opportunity to make promises, either directly or in my heart. I have carried the stories of those I met, and I still carry the promises I made to the people who opened their lives to me. I carry the promises to fight for the families of my neighbors and friends. I carry the promises to never give up and to see this through all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. While the weight of those promises—and that of the stories I am now the custodian of—is lighter now that we have secured marriage equality for Virginia, some of those promises were not truly fulfilled until Tuesday.
You see, to honor those who stood with us since 2013, I committed to spending Tuesday on the steps of the United States Supreme Court Building. That commitment afforded me a chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the very people we, the plaintiffs who have participated in marriage equality cases spanning 40 years, have fought for. It afforded me a chance to walk up to the front of the crowd, to look up at the courthouse façade that bares the words “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW,” and to whisper “promise kept” to all those who asked I that I pledge to fight all the way to the land’s highest court.
As the crowd sang “We Shall Overcome” to drown out a particularly loud protester, I whispered to the man who had spent many years living abroad in “DOMA exile” to be with a husband who was not a U.S. citizen. As my daughter waved a red flag from her perch atop my wife’s shoulders, I whispered to the family who has fought so long and advocated so sincerely for second-parent adoption of a son legally adopted by one of them, but not the other. As the plaintiffs whose case was argued before the court today made their way down the steps while listening to the roar of a thousand supporters, I whispered to the mother who thanked us for working to make a safer and more accepting world for her daughter—a lesbian who is just entering adulthood.
It is to those people and countless more who shared their stories with us that I whisper, “Promise kept.” On Tuesday, my wife and I were physically surrounded by hundreds of strangers-turned-friends, but we were spiritually surrounded by every PFLAG parent who asked us to rise; every young GSA member who asked us to rise; every victim of violence who asked us to rise; and every person who asked us to rise while waiting for the chance to say, “I do.”
You, along with our amazing legal team and Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring, were in our hearts as we represented all of our families on the courthouse steps. To be a small part of the marriage equality movement is a privilege, and it has been my privilege this week to bring your stories, your hopes, your anxieties, and your courage to Washington. I thank you, all of you, for entrusting me with this tremendous responsibility, and I look forward to celebrating coast-to-coast equality with you in June.
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