Opinion: A post-Valentine’s Day message on love and justice

copyright the Chronicle February 19, 2014

by Allen Gilbert

This year’s Valentine’s Day had a message that I hope will raise the day’s usual associations with flowers and chocolate to one of fairness and equality.  I never thought the holiday might be seen that way.  But it’s so obvious — the day is about couples and love.  And as a country, we’re finally developing a broad acceptance that means all couples.

The march to marriage equality has strong, vibrant roots in our state.  Twenty years ago, some courageous, committed Vermonters looked at the injustice of unequal marriage rights and decided that had to change.

Taking the first step on that road, to civil unions, was a wrenching experience for the state.  I still remember the raw emotion that flowed through the State House during committee deliberations and public hearings over the issue.  Taking the second step on that road, to marriage equality, echoed a sliver of that wrenching.  But in other, important ways it was a celebration of the distance the state had come in realizing what should and had to be done.

Seventeen states now have marriage equality — up from nine just a year ago.  The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the ACLU’s Edith Windsor case broadened the road for other states to travel in reaching marriage equality.  LGBT advocates around the country are working very hard to reach 50-state equality.

I encourage you to read a Valentine’s Day message posted by Vermont Freedom to Marry, the group that has been the driving force behind marriage equality in our state.  The message is a joyful celebration of how far we’ve come, while reminding us of how far we still have to go.

Prominent in the Freedom to Marry post is reference to the striking down this past week of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages.  The judge who struck the ban was U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen.  Wright Allen was the first African-American woman nominated to serve as a federal district court judge in Virginia.  She was confirmed by the Senate on a 96-0 vote.  When she appeared for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she brought along her church pastor.  Her decision, issued on the eve of Valentine’s Day, is perhaps the most wonderful love letter this country has ever received.

In an engaging profile of Wright Allen that appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post, the Post reporters noted this about her decision:

After quoting Lincoln that men ask for “fairness, and fairness only,” Wright Allen added:  “The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only.  This, so far as it is in this court’s power, they and all others shall have.”

The 19th-century American abolitionist Theodore Parker, during this country’s long struggle over slavery, offered the maxim on which many civil liberties battles are based:  “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Parker said, “but it bends towards justice.”  Let us hope that on Valentine’s Day next year, we can celebrate, as a nation, marriage equality in all of our states.

Allen Gilbert is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

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