Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Sitting at the Lunch Counter

I’d been following the San Francisco gay-marriage story with some interest, but I’ve not been riveted to the news. After all, I thought it was just a publicity stunt by the new mayor to get some of that famous California 15-Minute Limelight. But then I remembered the young black men who walked into a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on May 4, 1961 and politely expected to be served in the whites-only restaurant. They were taunted, spat on, and eventually threatened with arrest. And no, they were not served. But it was an important demonstration, and it stands in the history of this country as a moment when the universe of civil rights began to shift.

Perhaps the hundreds of couples getting hitched in San Francisco will have their marriages annulled by the sweep of a court ruling. (Isn’t it interesting how the anti-gay marriage folks rail against “activist” judges who rule in favor of gay marriage, but where is the first place they run when they want to overturn it?) Perhaps the election of 2004 will bring the issue to the forefront as if it is the Most Important Thing In The World, leaving behind such boring trivia as the deficit and the war. Perhaps, even, the House and Senate will move the FMA through to some kind of vote. But like those young men at the lunch counter who never got served, the couples in San Francisco have set a force in motion that will led to a change not only in the law but in the attitude of a country. Granted, it will take a while – there are still the ghosts of Jim Crow lingering; just ask the folks at Denny’s – but it will happen. My advice to those couples is to hang on to those licenses; they will be worth something someday. Maybe not as a legal document, but as a sign pointing to the future.

[Update: thanks to beastofsound for the place and date of the sit-in.]