One woman has people talking across California.
They've seen her on TV, looking lovely in her wedding dress. She tries, over and over, to walk down the aisle to her groom, but again and again is blocked by obstacles in her way. She's the nameless centerpiece of a new ad rolled out by Let California Ring, a campaign that is not political or linked to an election-cycle, but rather aims at moving hearts and minds.
The wedding ad, which can be seen on www.letcaliforniaring.org, puts viewers in the shoes of the many same-sex couples who are prevented from marrying the person that they love. It's striking how many non-gay people have never really been invited to put themselves in another's place. Left on their own, they too often treat their view or vote on ending marriage discrimination as kind of a "freebie" that has no real-life consequences to couples, kids, and even the gay people they say they want to be fair to. Those of us who care owe it to the fair-minded people we know to ask them to get engaged.
Let California Ring aims to encourage a million conversations throughout the state (and I'd like to see millions more throughout the country) -- at house-parties, around office water-coolers (do many offices still have those?), and across dinner tables. To make these conversations happen, we have to break the chicken-and-egg of gay people not talking to the people in their lives directly about why we need them to care about ending exclusion from marriage, while non-gay people wait for their non-gay friends and family-members to bring it up, or think everything is fine. It's not enough to be tolerant and caring, because the gay people we care about are being treated as second-class citizens and the same-sex couples we know are denied important tangible and intangible protections and respect. The denial of the freedom to marry harms people -- and when we break our silence about this, and answer people's questions, hearts and minds do move.
Will it work? Another powerful video a few weeks ago proved that conversations do move people. After having repeatedly said he would veto a City Council measure adding San Diego to the other major California cities urging the state Supreme Court to end marriage discrimination, Mayor Jerry Sanders stepped before cameras announcing his intention to sign a resolution supporting the freedom to marry. Mayor Sanders, a Republican former police chief, said his change of heart and mind was due to soul-searching and personal conversations with gay people he knows, including his staff and his lesbian daughter, showing how powerful it is to make the conversation about real people, not just legalisms or hypotheticals. He also described how he had come to understand that his prior support for civil union, rather than marriage, was inadequate and wrong.
There is tremendous momentum in California for ending the exclusion from marriage that harms families and helps no one. In the next few months, the state Supreme Court will hear a challenge to discrimination brought by several couples who, like the woman in the ad, want to see the personal commitment they've made in life honored and respected by the law, in the legal commitment called marriage. The Court is likely to rule sometime in 2008, the 60th anniversary of Perez v. Sharp, the historic case in which the same court became the first in the country to strike down race-discrimination in marriage. Mindful of the lessons of past battles over marriage discrimination, hundreds of civil rights, child welfare, health professional, legal, and civic organizations joined the couples before the Supreme Court, speaking out in support of the same-sex couples, making the case for fairness.
Now you can add your voice.
By supporting Let California Ring, or even just by using its tools and spreading the word, those of us committed to the freedom to marry can engage the open-minded but conflicted people around us in conversations about why marriage matters and how fixing the law so as not to exclude will benefit non-gay and gay people alike.
And while the freedom to marry is about a lot more than weddings and presents, it's great to see people taking part in a cause in which doing the right thing brings bling.