Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Equal Justice Under Law: Coming to a State Near You

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

As of midnight last night, the state of Florida was legally required to recognize my marriage to Andy Mobley, my life partner of 41 years this May, my legal husband of five years this August. It has been a long fight in Florida marked by much disingenuity and bitterness. But, with the final order of the federal district court taking effect last night, the battle is all over but the shouting, not that political opportunists like Florida’s attorney general will not capitalize on every opportunity to do so.

No Roadmap to Follow

Andy and I have been life partners since May 31, 1974. We have been through much together. There simply were no positive models for gay couples in those days. We had no roadmap to follow.

The closet was mandatory for those who wished to remain employed and avoid vandalism of one’s car and threatening phone calls at one’s home. Homophobia was the unquestioned norm sanctioned by the state and it was frequently seen as the will of G-d by those who presume G_d inevitably shares their prejudices.

We had to find our own way, a way marked by many mistakes and wrong turns and much forgiveness. But by the grace of a very generous G-d, we have survived. And 41 years later, I cannot imagine living my life without my gentle-spirited partner, now legal husband.

Much has changed since those early days. That has included our own views about marriage. A decade ago both Andy and I were both opposed to buying into what we both saw as a failed institution with too much baggage to be redeemed. For a while we both favored domestic partnership because of the legal protections we believed it would afford us.

But when the case arose in Florida involving a lesbian couple in a domestic partnership denied hospital visitation privileges as one of the partners lay dying at Miami Jackson Hospital, my entire view of this matter changed. It became clear to me that domestic partnerships were not guaranteed to be honored at precisely the times when such legal protections were most needed.

So first I and later Andy decided that marriage was the only way we could gain the protections under the law that every couple should be able to expect but only those with the law behind them could anticipate. We then set about finding a way to accomplish that.

Equal Justice Under Law

Our union had already been blessed in the chapel of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA ten years previously. A bishop from an independent Catholic tradition had officiated before a number of friends, our family of choice. When we decided that we would go to the District of Columbia to get married, we asked the same bishop to legally marry us. He was delighted to do so.

The photo above was taken moments after we had completed the legal pronouncements part of the wedding rite. We are standing in front of the US Supreme Court under the famous frieze bearing the legend “Equal Justice Under Law.” On that day, we were there to get our own piece of justice and we did.

Ironically, in this photo we are facing the US Capitol building across the street from SCOTUS, the very agency charged with making laws for all Americans whose failure to protect our rights to equal treatment under the law ultimately required the federal court system to do that job for them.  Instead, the Congress passed a discriminatory law called the Defense of Marriage Act which the SCOTUS ultimately struck down as unconstitutional.

Much to the prescient chagrin of Justice Antonin Scalia, this began a cascading chain reaction in which states like Florida, who passed similar laws and constitutional amendments, found their own homophobic legislation struck down. To turn a common slander on its head, if a discriminatory law walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that the arc of the moral universe is long but ultimately bends towards justice. Today, justice has finally come to the state of Florida which has been dragged screaming and kicking out of its human rights adolescence into young adulthood. It now joins the 35 states and the District of Columbia which have previously gone through this overdue growing stage to join nations around the world who have long ago dismantled their own discriminatory laws. And eventually it will be coming to a state near you, too.

Happy Equal Marriage Day, Florida.  You may now kiss your legal spouse!

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., M.Div., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Asst. Lecturer: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Osceola Campus, Kissimmee

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined
belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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