Last week I had the pleasure of watching “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”. The film was phenomenal, and I highly recommend seeing it. Although the storyline revolves around a butler named Cecil Gaines who works in the White House for 34 years, the movie ultimately says more about the Civil Rights movement. The movie ends with Gaines — a man raised on a cotton plantation — meeting President Barack Obama. After leaving the theater, I couldn’t help but think about how far America has come when considering this country’s incredibly recent history with racism and discrimination.
The day after watching the movie, I had lunch with my friend Morgan, who was in a noticeably bad mood. After I asked her what was wrong, she told me that she had just left a class in which the discussion was whether or not gay marriage is constitutional. As you can imagine at a university such as Michigan, the vast majority of the classroom supported the constitutionality of gay marriage. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a comment that had caused Morgan’s irritation; it was the fact that this conversation was even happening that was so frustrating to her.
Morgan’s parents are gay. Even though she has lived in the “liberal” city of Ann Arbor her entire life, Morgan and her family have had to deal with the universal, constant adversity that gay parents face. Just last week during parents’ weekend, Morgan was faced with a challenge.
My friends and I host a parent’s tailgate every year in which many of our friends bring their families. It’s always a highlight of the season; it’s great to meet my friends’ parents and for them to meet mine. This year Morgan brought her parents. Prior to the tailgate, Morgan was unsure of the reaction her two moms would receive from other parents. Some of our friends’ parents are religious, worrying her of the possibility that her moms might not be welcomed at the event. Luckily, it ended up being great; everybody loved meeting her moms. Morgan’s uneasiness prior to the tailgate, however, must have been unbearable.
The concept of not being excited to show my family off to friends is incredibly foreign to me. I love having friends meet my parents and I always talk about my family to anyone willing to listen. Morgan isn’t afforded this luxury. Instead, she has to live in a constant state of awareness because she has no idea whether people will accept or reject her parents’ sexual orientation. Even worse, Morgan and her brother are constantly reminded by Michigan and other homophobic state constitutions that her parents — the people that raised her to be the unbelievably smart, beautiful and courteous woman that she is — are somehow worse at parenting than their heterosexual counterparts.
Michigan’s constitution has had a same-sex marriage ban in place since 2004. It currently is facing legal challenges by two women from Detroit who were banned from adopting each other’s children. Gay rights activists are hopeful that the 2004 ban will be declared unconstitutional and Michigan will join the other 14 states and District of Columbia that currently allow same-sex marriage.
In 1961, Obama’s parents got married in Hawaii. At the time, interracial marriage was still illegal in 16 states. It wasn’t until the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court Case Loving v. Virginia that interracial marriage would become legal throughout the nation. Nowadays, a mixed-race student would never have to sit in a classroom and argue why his or her parents’ marriage is constitutional. Nevertheless, only a generation ago, this conversation was undoubtedly present in universities across the country.
One day, Morgan will likely be telling her children of a time in which their grandparents weren’t allowed to marry each other. Her children will likely be mystified by the bigoted mindset of the past, just as my generation looks upon colored drinking fountains.
America has come so far in the last few decades. We have broken down barriers for all types of people and we continue to do so today. Gay marriage will eventually be legal throughout the country. Morgan’s parents will one day have a marriage that is respected and acknowledged by all 50 states. But until that day comes, America cannot consider itself a fully free and fair society.
Patrick Maillet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.