Last week, I attended the NAACP's annual Freedom Fund Banquet celebrating African Americans in Charleston and South Carolina. Several minutes into the event, one of the donors read a statement from state Sen. Marlon Kimpson. Sen. Kimpson praised the NAACP, and everyone in the room applauded enthusiastically. Then he made a similarly strong statement supporting same-sex marriage, telling the audience how important it is for groups like the NAACP to support gay marriage. While a few people applauded loudly, many in the room — perhaps even most of them — were silent. I was shocked: How could a progressive organization like the NAACP be skeptical about same-sex marriage?
In so many ways, South Carolina is a homophobic state. In the winter of 2014, several state senators and representatives celebrated their own homophobia by trying to penalize the College of Charleston for offering the award-winning book Fun Home to incoming first-year students by yanking some of the school's funding. Rep. Garry Smith and Rep. Stephan Goldfinch said that the book was "pornographic," "obscene," and promoted "the gay and lesbian lifestyle." Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Fair said that offering the book amounted to "recruiting," and Sen. Kevin Bryant told The State, "If they've got extra money sitting around to promote perversion, obviously they've got more money than they really need." As I've pointed out before, it's obvious these elected officials hadn't even read the book they were critiquing or else they would have known that it was far from pornographic.
I recently spoke with Linda Ketner, a local gay activist and a one-time candidate for South Carolina's First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She told me, "Some talk about how fast 'freedom to marry' has come. It feels that way because attitudes changed quickly in the last 10 years, and I'm as surprised and happy as anyone."
Ketner added, "The 14th amendment, guaranteeing equal protection under the law, is 146 years old. During that period of time, literally millions of LGBT Americans have been abandoned by families and condemned by their religion; committed suicide and been bullied, beaten or murdered; been imprisoned; fired, not hired. For those damaged by prejudice, the change certainly didn't come fast enough."
Today, we're a state that offers same-sex marriage. Honestly, I thought this was going to be a lengthy, ugly fight — and I'm sure our elected officials would have wanted it to be that way. But the S.C. Supreme Court has made its decision, and that decision will stand unless the U.S Supreme Court says otherwise — which it won't. Eventually every state in the Union will offer marriage to all adults, straight and gay.
Ketner isn't the only one excited by the court ruling. "This is absolutely fantastic news for everyone," said Bri Sanders, a College of Charleston graduate and gay-rights activist. Meanwhile, Amanda Hollinger and Tasha Gandy, two other local activists, have been fighting for same-sex marriage for years. Hollinger says, "I'm still in disbelief and just so excited."
Hollinger and Gandy were married in New York when it became legal in that state, and they applied for a Charleston County marriage license as soon as it was available here. "This is a big step forward," Gandy told me. "Some South Carolina politicians might squirm and shake their fist at the moon, but this cat is out of the bag. And honestly, they will find that absolutely nothing has changed in their lives when we can finally sign and hold a piece of paper that says we share all our stuff."
I'm not going to tell you how important same-sex marriage is. I'm not going to offer stories to convince you that a person who loves another person is valuable. It's 2014. If you don't get this by now, then it's up to you to figure out why you're wrong.
There are, of course, many more changes that need to happen. As Sanders says, "Everyone must understand that same-sex marriage is not the final step to achieving full equality for the LGBTQ community. It really is one of the first steps."
This state is now taking those steps.