March 22, 2013
In December I was pretty sure I would not be going. But by January, I knew I couldn’t miss it. I’m talking, of course, about oral argument in two of the most important LGBT cases ever to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court—the challenges to Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As soon as the dates of the arguments were set—back-to-back on March 26 and 27—I could not imagine NOT being there.
I have never witnessed a Supreme Court argument in person. Back in 1995, I tried to attend oral argument in the Romer v. Evans case—one of the first important Supreme Court victories for LGBT people—but I was pretty new to all this LGBT legal advocacy work, and was not a member of the Supreme Court bar. By the time I got to the court at 5:00 a.m. the day of the argument, I was roughly number 500 in the public line. As if that was not discouraging enough, I ended up standing—for three hours—next to some students from Regent University Law School (which was founded by Pat Robertson, enough said?). I finally moved back farther in line just to be next to gay people.
I never did get a seat for that argument. I was able to see the court proceedings for three minutes by availing myself of the “three-minute line,” which in the end may have been even more excruciating. So close, and yet so far away. I hope this trip will be more gratifying. I have taken every precaution. I am now a member of the Supreme Court bar, which means I get to stand in the “bar member line.” There will still be truckloads of interested LGBT and non-LGBT attorneys, though, so I am taking no chances. I have even hired a “line-stander” to hold a place for me.
I am doing all of this because I want to witness this historic moment in our history first-hand. I am keenly aware of what a privilege this is—to be able to be there, to be alive to see this moment. We have been witness to enormous and breathtaking changes in our nation. We are in a new chapter in our liberation story—that is for sure. We are never going back, even as we make certain we leave no one behind.
I will make every effort to be the eyes and ears for those who can’t be in Washington, D.C. next week for the oral arguments. Each day after the argument, I will send you an email of my impressions and thoughts, and even if no one else ever reads them, I will save them and read them when I am old to remind myself of what it felt like to be alive as the ground was shifting and new vistas were opening.
When I was trying to attend the Supreme Court oral argument in the Romer v. Evans case, I remember standing in front of the courthouse as the sun started to rise. It was a beautiful, crisp Fall day in D.C. As the sky lightened, I looked up at the courthouse and noticed, for the first time, the words etched above the massive white marble columns: “Equal Justice Under Law.” I remember thinking that day, “I sure hope so.”
On this trip I have no doubt that this promise will soon be ours.