I remember the first time I had heard the word gay. How it was a guarded secret, like saying it too loudly might make one of them show up. I remember because a law called proposition 8 was being voted on in California. I was in third grade and kids at my Catholic private school had been talking about it. How their parents thought it was a great thing. Because you see, prop 8 would illegalize same sex marriage in California. When my mom picked me up that day I asked, “Mom, do we like gay people?”
And I remember all my siblings, also in the car, looking at me; then to my mother. She did not blink, she did not hesitate, she did not waver, and she looked straight ahead and continued to drive, and then answered.
“We like all people who pay their dues, who respect others, who take care of their children, and who know right from wrong. So we like gay people because why should we not? And if anyone at that school tells you God disagrees, know that they are wrong, because God loves all.”
I absorbed this. I did not know that what my mother said was controversial. It made sense to me, it was simple. Yet I was more confused by how other people could. My sister, Claire, then leaned in. Her question made sense now, but at the time seemed earth-shattering, “What if one of us is gay? Would you be mad?”
And my mother took a deep breath, he shoulders moved up and down and she made eye contact with us in the rear view mirror.
“I would love you, but I would be afraid for you.”
Looking back at it, my mother had said such a powerful thing. She knew we were living in a bubble, our friends and family where a bubble, our state was a bubble in itself, California; home of the “Fruits and the Fairies.” She was so afraid that we would leave that bubble and people would look at us differently.
Then we passed a house, with a lawn sign that proudly read God says yes on 8. I remember my mother rolling he eyes and saying “I saw her talk to God, it was impressive.”
The next step of my adolescent rebellion was our principal, Sister Linda, a Benedictine nun. I walked across the black top, defiantly folded my arms, and said, “I don’t think God hates gay people.”
And I remember Sister Linda taking off her sunglasses (she was a pretty cool nun) and leaning down to me, smiling. “God doesn’t hate anyone. Man has a habit of interpreting what God has to say, and that’s why we have a division of Church and State. Because sometimes mankind is a little behind God.”
Yet somehow in California, what many believe to be the most liberal state in this beautiful union, proposition 8 passed. Love was made illegal, people’s lives were declared illegitimate. It was not until two years later that the State Supreme Court knocked down the bill.
Then, in my eighth grade United States History class, my teacher informed us that gay marriage would be the greatest legal battle of our lifetime. That it may not even happen while she was alive.
But then it did.
Because on June 26, 2015 love won. The law of the land became that if a consenting adult loved another, they could legally wed. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Because despite the hate and bigotry in this world our country had stood on the right side of history. Suddenly people weren’t so afraid to say that word, “Gay.” It wasn’t an insult in the cafeteria.
So today, gay marriage turned a year old. Something we allies thought we might not see for decades. This happens in the wake of the largest mass shooting in American history, an attack on a gay club. The despicable irony is not lost on me, because there’s a lot more work to be done. There’s more rights to gain and more hate to be vanquished. But today I choose to be happy, to be proud to live in my country.
So when my children and grandchildren ask me what it was like to see gay marriage legalized, I will answer: “It was about damn time.”