“Fifty states, fifty states!” This chant was heard all over the country at gay pride parades in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage. This decision is monumental for our country, and as NPR’s Tina Totenberg points out, “This is probably right up there with Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade — if you like it or hate it — and today, Obergefell v. Hodges. This was a historic moment." As expected, not everyone was thrilled with the decision. However, the ruling on same-sex marriage shows that our country has progressed from our previous homophobic ways.
It's reassuring that our country now legally recognizes same-sex marriage, and we are the 20th country to do so. Yet, as we tackle one human rights issue, another issue continues to plague us. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg had a thought-provoking quote that resonates deeply with the current state of our nation. Ginsuburg, who works relentlessly for gender equality and civil rights, talked about our ability to relate to one another in an interview with the National Law Journal:
Ginsburg suggests that public acceptance of gay Americans is eclipsing our ability to relate to each other across racial lines. “Once [gay] people began to say who they were,” Ginsburg noted, “you found that it was your next-door neighbor or it could be your child, and we found people we admired.” By contrast, according to Ginsburg, “[t]hat understanding still doesn’t exist with race; you still have separation of neighborhoods, where the races are not mixed. It’s the familiarity with people who are gay that still doesn’t exist for race and will remain that way for a long time as long as where we live remains divided.”
Understanding, or our ability to relate to one another, is harder for people when it comes to race. As Ginsburg states, most neighborhoods are separated based off of race (which correlates to wealth inequality among white and black households) and this separation hinders our ability to see past the color of our skin and accept each other for who we are. That's what same-sex marriage is all about, accepting others for who they are and what they believe in. This same acceptance is not afforded to race, and because of that, our nation has found itself engulfed in turmoil. This is evident with the Charleston shooting, the burning of black churches, Baltimore and Freddie Gray, Ferguson and Michael Brown, and the list goes on. As a country, we have the capacity and ability to fix the racial disparities that exist. So if we hope to grow as a nation, this is the next hard conversation we must have. As James Cooney, Director of the FBI, stated months ago when addressing Ferguson, Missouri, “We all need to talk, and we all need to listen, not just about easy things, but about hard things, too. Relationships are hard. Relationships require work. So let’s begin. It is time to start seeing one another for who and what we really are.”