Dig Baton Rouge

Making History

By Matthew Patterson

Editor’s Note: Matthew Patterson is the Research and Policy Coordinator for Equality Louisiana, one of many groups that has worked to advance LGBTQ rights in Louisiana. DIG Magazine asked Patterson to share his thoughts on the SCOTUS decision.

Being part of history feels… weird.

The pyramids are history. The Constitutional Convention is history. But for my part, I just turned 30, and I kind of thought I still had things to do before we closed this chapter. It’s profoundly disorienting to think that my kids are going to complain about memorizing the spelling of Obergefell v. Hodges for a social studies test someday. It’s too much to take in.

Maybe other people are more used to putting profound moments like this in the proper global context in their minds. I find that I almost have to look at it from the side. I have to focus on the smaller details to get any meaning out of the big picture.

Suddenly the family driving across the South to visit Grandma doesn’t have to worry that their legal relationship will dissolve as they cross state lines. Two women in Vernon Parish don’t have to worry that their multigenerational extended family won’t be able to come to their wedding, because they don’t have to have their wedding a thousand miles away. Florists and caterers are about to get a permanent boost to their livelihoods. Government employees who have been required to deny their consciences and pretend they don’t recognize their neighbors as equal in the eyes of the law can finally go to work with a light heart.

Those are the things that make the big challenging ideas have any meaning. Not that I don’t appreciate Justice Kennedy’s sweeping words about history and the law and the proper role of the democratic process, or, as he put it, marriages that embody “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” These things are important, but I can’t see them apart from the people who bring them into being.

There’s no democracy without individuals working together for our mutual benefit. There’s no love or sacrifice or marriage or family in the abstract, floating around for a scientist to capture and unambiguously characterize—there are just people whose actions toward each other and the world demonstrate those wonderful and terrible words.

The big ideas matter, of course. The Supreme Court’s decision this week relies on a lot of them. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,” the Constitution starts, and if there’s a bigger and more impossible idea than forming a “perfect Union,” I don’t know what it could be. I know the men who wrote that can’t have understood it the way I do—they weren’t even willing to grant that all of the human beings living in the United States who were in fact people—but they left themselves, and us, enough room to do better.

See, even the fundamental law of the land acknowledges what I was trying to say earlier. The Constitution says that the people are what matter, not just the ideas, and we collectively have the power and responsibility to build a “more perfect” future. We’re not meant to admire it from afar—our work, all the mundane everyday stuff, is in there from the very start.

So the Supreme Court can rule that marriage equality is the law of the land, but it can’t oversee the million details that turn legal equality for same-sex couples from an abstract idea into a lived reality across the country. The best they can do is say “this is what the big picture has to look like”—we have to make sure the rest of it gets filled in. Your kids aren’t going to memorize that along with the name and date of the case, but without us doing this work, the Court’s opinion won’t matter enough for them to learn about it. So let’s celebrate, and then let’s clean up from the party and move on to the next one… knowing that now more than ever, our unions—both political and personal—are a little bit more perfect.

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