It was one of those days in April that are cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. Sweater over my shoulder, I arrived at the house in Georgetown where Jim Obergefell and his family were staying.
I was working for a progressive blog in Washington DC at the time, and I’d been offered the opportunity to see history in the making. That was the kind of confidence we had back then in the months before the Supreme Court’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage across the US.
We didn’t call it a sure thing. Nothing except intern season is ever a sure thing in DC. But we had enough confidence to recognise the gravity of the situation. This was probably going to be the man in the history books, whose last name would be immortalised in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Obergefell is one of those figures that history kind of plucked from a grab bag. It could have been anyone. Kind, fidgety and warm, he was every bit the meek protagonist the media had portrayed him to be. He shook my hand, and I felt privileged to be a blogger and to be in such an important room.
But what made that day so peculiar was what happened after. I was asked to go with a small team to cover the protests that had erupted in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who had died in the back of a police vehicle.
The cars skidded across lanes, across medians. A line of police in riot gear stood between our team and the CVS that was on fire. It smelled like the fourth of July.
A group of residents had assembled in front of the police.
“Y’all some fucking pigs!” One man said. From the way he was dressed and the way he spoke, I thought he was Queer.
That night, when I went home, I checked Facebook. I saw that a lot of my white friends were talking about Baltimore and condemning the uprisings as riots. Many of them were gay men, I noticed, and many of them were quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
I thought back on my afternoon in that nice home in Georgetown where I’d met Jim Obergefell. I thought about how the fight for same-sex marriage was a branch from a larger struggle that had begun with a confrontation with police at a bar in New York.
History is taught in closed narratives. That’s especially true for marginalised people. We are wiped from every chapter in the book, until the one about our oppression. Then come the saviours. Then comes the resolution.
There were some, at the time, who believed the legalisation of same-sex marriage would be the final punctuation mark at the end of the story. But that was never the case.
Injustice anywhere is injustice to us all. Because we are all connected. Our communities intersect. And when we accept the whitewashed version of our histories, where the saviours who came before us took care of everything, we also accept a whitewashed concept of justice.
Securing justice doesn’t always look like people in suits and ties heading to the Supreme Court, especially not at the beginning. It is a messy process. It is an ongoing process. It is a process you and I are still very much a part of.
We are not merely the lucky inheritors of social progress, spoiled by the hard-won privileges our predecessors secured for us.
We are more than descendants. We are part of a long process, a sentence in a story that makes twists and turns and has its ups and downs. And now, as we find ourselves decidedly in the valley of a slump, what we do carries significant weight.
The times we find ourselves living in tell us that progress is not a straight line, that if it’s true that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, it does so sloppily, in fits and starts, like a drunk trying to wobble home.
What we do now will provide the context for what comes after us, and while we carry the titans of LGBT+ history in our hearts, now is as good a time as any to remember that they were just people, making tough decisions, fighting the best way they knew how, getting it wrong and getting it right.
Just like us.
Follow John Paul Brammer on Twitter @JPBrammer