By the time I graduated from Oak Ridge High School in East Tennessee 34 years ago, I knew a few things for sure:
1. I cared deeply about social justice.
2. I expected to become governor or a senator from Tennessee after college.
3. I was a homosexual, but desperately did not want to be.
More than three decades later in a courtroom in San Francisco--a city that I had once been afraid to visit lest people think I was gay--the ghosts and demons of self-loathing are being exorcised.
The legendary team of Ted Olson and David Boies, who faced off before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore in 2000, present their final arguments on Wednesday 16 June in Judge Vaughn Walker's federal court. The arguments by both sides will sum up the twelve days of testimony that took place in January, focusing on Judge Walker's pointed questions that I wrote about last week. We can expect a ruling shortly after the trial. And then we can expect appeals, most likely to the Supreme Court.
But history has already been made. I was in court every day of the trial (save one) in January. Even after 138,452 Courage Campaign members responded in the affirmative to the Judge's request for public comment on whether or not to televise the trial, cameras were banned, largely hiding the proceedings from the public. That's what the right wing folks who have put anti-equality measures on ballots all over the country wanted. They feared that their arguments would not stand the withering cross-examination of David Boies, much less the panoply of expert witnesses who would demonstrate that the only reason the oxymoronic Protect Marriage and NOM band oppose marriage equality is that, well, it's not their definition of marriage. The trial also showed unequivocally that their political machine, a direct descendant of Anita Bryant who first used the ballot to enforce legal discrimination against gays and lesbians in 1972, was fueled by prejudice and stigmatization.
I live-blogged that trial (as I will again on Wednesday here at HuffPost and TrialTracker) at Prop 8 Trial Tracker where we received over two million hits and 30,000 comments. Whenever I wrote about a piece of the testimony that struck a nerve, people all over the country and the world chimed in with their comments, engaging in an online catharsis uniquely possible with today's social media.
Based on what I witnessed and the reactions to the blog, we knew that we had to create a long-term public engagement and education effort to get the story of this trial out to the American people. How many others like me knew they were gay or lesbian but could not felt left out by a culture that says we are not equal? And more importantly, how many today still believe that? A million? Ten million? Regardless of the outcome of this trial, the testimony itself can change lives. Had this testimony been in the public discourse thirty years ago, the depression and suicidal thoughts with which I wrestled would have evaporated.
We launched Testimony: Equality on Trial, so that in its first phase everyone in this country can reenact or at least read short pieces of key testimony. We must make this trial our American heritage, shine the light on those ghosts that haunt others in Tennessee and Texas and Tallahassee and Tacoma? Marisa Tomei and other celebrities kicked this off, but we all need to ingest this testimony, to reenact it wherever we are.
Please, have a look at the Testimony site.
Later this summer, we'll offer you the opportunity to give your own testimony. Once you see what happened in court, you can tell your friends and the American public your own story. How has discrimination affected you? What happened when you went to your wedding (we want everyone to tell this story, straight, gay, bi, lesbian and transgender)? What did your friends think? What do your friends think now? As Dustin Lance Black showed in his Oscar-winning script for MILK, stories are America. With modern social networking and good old fashioned on-the-ground organizing, everyone will join in to give their testimony, just as I've done a bit of in this post.
Our lives take odd turns. Mine included having met Ted Olson over 25 years ago where, as the client's representative, I had a lot of exposure to Ted and his team. They were the best. And I was scared to death that they or anyone else would find out my secret, would learn that I was gay. I hid it from them and from everyone in my workplace. I tried desperately to hide it from myself. Now, at age 52, I live a happy, fulfilled life shared with the most magical man alive, Shaun Kadlec. Those years of hiding and sublimating, of living in fear and with loathing, powered me to create the Courage Campaign and to help build a movement for progress and equality in California and beyond.
I have no regrets, but I am sure glad that Ted Olson has come along again, determined to allow all Americans to live to our full potential. I hope we'll succeed in court and change the laws once and for all so that we can end the outrage of voting on each other's rights. But in order to succeed fully, to propel the nation where it's headed anyway, we need to tell the story of the trial and we need to tell our own stories. We need to testify.
And there are few things we can do right now:
1. Join us on Facebook. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) still has more Facebook friends than Equality on Trial. Will you help us change that?
2. Visit the site and commit to do one reading or reenactment and either film it or write to us about it.
Soon, this will all be history. And we'll all have been part of it.
I'll see you here tomorrow, in court.
Follow Rick Jacobs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rickjacobs