On the afternoon of June 26th, Christopher Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues was cordoned off for a party set to start at 5:30 p.m. As early as 4:30, hundreds of smiling faces outshone the afternoon sun and made for a picture of diversity.
A participant in the first Pride march, the Christopher Street Liberation Day march of 1970, shared photos of those 350 brave marchers, while toddlers on the shoulders of their gay, lesbian, and straight ally parents waved little flags provided by teams from the Human Rights Campaign.
Celebrants filled the Stonewall Inn to overflowing and spilled out into the street, waving Rainbow flags and the Stars and Stripes, taking photos, hugging and kissing, laughing and crying, and dancing in the street to the DJ thumpa-thumpa of Donna Summer anthems “I Feel Love,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” and her over-the-top duet with Barbra Streisand “It’s Raining/Enough is Enough.”
Spotted in the crowd were representatives from all areas of our urban landscape, a number of whom would soon be taking the microphone, including the evening’s hosts, Brian Silva, Executive Director of Marriage Equality USA; Pastor Joseph Tolton of Rehoboth Temple in Harlem; Edith Windsor’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who won the case United States v. Windsor, striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); Congressman Jerry Nadler; Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell; New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; the ubiquitous and always welcome Yetta Kurland; Thomas Ude of Lambda Legal; Cathy Marino-Thomas of Marriage Equality USA; Eugene Lovendusky of Queer Rising; Judson Memorial Church Community Arts Minister Micah Bucey; Rev. Mark Erson, the Pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street; boys, men, women, girls, and everyone in-between; professional and amateur photographers; passersby; members of the press; and political lobbyists—the list goes on.
At 5:20 p.m., the music stopped abruptly. Over the loudspeaker came the news that the guest of honor was on her way and would arrive in fifteen minutes, so would we please make our way toward the podium. Staging, timing, and weather were perfect.
Everyone had just assembled when Cher’s “Believe” (“Do you believe in life after love?”) gave the honored guest the regal and hi-decibel welcome she deserved. No stadium crowd has ever cheered a win louder or longer than that afternoon’s roar of welcome for Edith Windsor.
This diminutive 84-year old, weighing in at 100 lbs and only five-feet tall, had taken a stand against injustice, sung the megalithic United States and, against all the odds, had won a victory not only for herself, but for LGBTQs everywhere in America, now and for generations to come.
The case of United States v. Winsdor toppled the house of cards that history will know as DOMA, a document signed into law when President Clinton was the scapegoat of the Republican Party, a prejudicial law representing layers of noise, spin, hypocrisy, and hype, bought and maintained with millions of dollars of taxpayer money in an effort to defend the indefensible.
Edie Winsdor’s triumph represents democracy and community at work, successfully articulating both the letter and the spirit of the law, and is the hinge factor propelling us into the next chapter of the history of Human Rights.
As of this writing, thirteen states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, which means that there are now 93 million people—fully one-third of the U.S. population--living in states which have ruled that the time for Marriage Equality has come. In many of the remaining 37 states, however, the opposition is digging in its heels, and the work that lies ahead is crystal-clear.
Building on this success state by state until critical mass of velocity is reached, meanwhile ensuring the safety of LGBTQs , and making certain that the Transgender population is fully protected and included may take time, but as Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry said in the New York Times on June 28, “I think it will be a matter of years, not decades.”
Equality is the core issue and, eventually, the only issue, and the wording of the Constitution is very clear about equal rights for all citizens under the law.
The Great Civil Rights March on Washington took place in August 1963. Fifty years later, another great victory has been won for Human Rights. Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying: “There is no wrong time to seek justice.” It is indeed always the right time.
Edie Windsor has been compared to Susan B. Anthony, Harvey Milk, and especially to Rosa Parks, who refused to stand up and relinquish her rightful seat on the bus. Edie Windsor certainly refused to sit down and relinquish her rightful place in society.
With characteristic poised emotion, she closed her address to those assembled on Christopher Street on a personal note: “If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it.”
The heart-stoppingly beautiful theme of love enabled by justice was brought home by Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, who asked us to recall the words of the writer of psalms: “Love and kindness have embraced. Peace and justice have kissed.”
I have just been to a marvelous party.