Four years ago Wednesday, New York became the seventh state to pass marriage equality, doubling the number of Americans overnight who had the right to marry. During NYC’s Pride week, on the eve of another major potential step toward equal rights for LGBT Americans, and a day after the city landmarked the iconic Stonewall Inn, I am filled with hope and anticipation.
I saw the transformative effects when the state’s Marriage Equality Act became law in 2011, and experienced the satisfying affirmation of finally being able to call my partner husband soon after. For someone who grew up imagining that an openly gay man could never get married or be elected to public office, it was an overwhelming change.
Ever since I was a boy, I dreamed of being a politician. But when I was imagining it, there were no openly gay politicians to look up to. I didn’t think an openly gay person could be elected to public office. I pursued a legal career, not in the hopes of switching to politics, but as an alternative I could enjoy. My husband, John, and I hid our relationship for more than a decade — not even sharing an apartment for fear of discovery.
By the late 1990s, attitudes had shifted enough that I began to entertain a run for office. By 2002, I had been elected as the first openly gay man in the Assembly. Still, it would be almost another decade before marriage equality finally came to our state.
In the bleakest moments during the debate over the state legislation, John used to tell me, “We still have us.” I would be comforted by the mere presence of the man I have been with since I was in college.
Now, our “us” could be on the brink of being affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Thirty-seven states, and Washington, D.C., have marriage equality. Ireland and Greenland recently joined 18 other countries in granting this right. The United States could once more lead in human rights issues globally. It is truly an exciting and anxious moment.
On New York’s anniversary, let us rejoice in our partnerships, and then use them to keep fighting for true equality, freedom from workplace discrimination, and rights for the transgender community.
As we await the Supreme Court’s decision, I’m hopeful that the justices will choose to open doors for the next generation of LGBT youth. I am excited to see what they can achieve when the way is cleared for them.