“The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right.”
– Harvey Milk
There’s no need to explain why that quote is especially appropriate right now. Even Mike Huckabee, who apparently lives under a rock and fears knowledge, couldn’t avoid the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality on the morning of June 26. When the announcement that bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, word instantaneously spread across Twitter, Facebook, and old fashioned sources of human communication like watercooler talk. Profile pictures lit up like rainbows and a variety of commemorative hashtags sprung up; there was no other conversation to be had. It was a moment that could instantly be recognized as both important and historic, the sort that would be forever recorded in history textbooks.
I was lucky enough to be living in Washington, D.C. when the ruling was announced. I had nothing to do with what happened. While I have been an active proponent of marriage equality since I was aware of what that term meant, the victory had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t part of the legal team that argued the case nor was I an active volunteer in organizations like the ACLU that helped to make this happen. No, I was just lucky enough to have a job that decided I should be in D.C. this summer, a lucky idiot who got to enjoy the experience of this day without putting in any effort.
And it was an incredible day to experience. The steps of the Supreme Court were littered with a potpourri of people that afternoon. Reporters reclined in lawn chairs with umbrellas and iPads, shooting the breeze and waiting in case someone might do something memorable, stupid, or some combination of the two. Couples and groups of friends took photos and spoke excitedly. Heart shaped balloons filled the air, one carried by a little girl held aloft on the shoulders of two men. In the middle of the action were scattered protestors. A young man with no sense for sound design squawked through a speaker rigged on his hip. Three college students stood with red tape across their lips inscribed with the word “LIFE”; one of them refused to stop texting and added a comical dose of irony to their actions. Those steps were alive. For motives both well-intentioned and otherwise, everyone wanted to see where this decision had been made.
The real event of the day was held later though, after the sun had gone down and the spotlights that bring the landmarks of D.C. to life every night went up. President Obama made a small adjustment to the lights in front of the White House, swapping the amber shading out to reflect a rainbow on the front of the building instead.
When I arrived at the plaza in front of the White House, people were gathered on the sidewalk, swarming like Koi discovering a piece of bread. Police had tape strung up along barriers and were holding everyone back as dogs and flashlights scanned the area. Was it a mysterious package? Had someone called in a threat? Nobody knew. Despite the large number of people packed into this narrow strip of cement, there was no frustration or pressure. Everyone stood calmly and waited. It had taken decades to reach this moment, what difference did a few more minutes make?
Only moments after I arrived the tape was lifted and we all began to walk in. There was no rush to the front, just a calm procession of people mixing together. As I drew closer to the White House, reds and yellows and blues began to glimmer from behind the trees. Then the other groups who had been held back became apparent, three streams of people all converged in front of the gates to witness a rainbow shining at night across the home of our President.
Hundreds of people stood together and a wave of collective joy washed over us. That’s not hyperbole. Simply being there resulted in a contact high, the kind that makes you feel drunk even when you haven’t touched a drop all day. Laughter and tears were released in equitable quantities, and a buzz of chatter filled the warm summer air. Friends and strangers alike patted one another on the shoulder, hugged, and snapped photos.
We were all standing together. We had come to celebrate a victory and bear witness to its symbol. No anger or fear or anxiety could be found; only an immense sense of relief. I don’t know how long I stood in that crowd, talking to so many people with enormous smiles. It simultaneously felt like a minute and an hour. But I never wanted to leave.
So why am I talking about this on a pop culture website?
What happened on June 26, 2015 isn’t very different from what we love about the culture we consume. Events at the Supreme Court, the White House, and throughout America reflect the climax of a powerful narrative. Just like in the best movies, comics, shows, and other stories this day held a powerful meaning, the kind capable of changing how we perceive the world we share.
I talk about fictional stories a lot. How do they affect us? What do they reveal about us? Are they capable of making us better? These questions aren’t limited to fiction though. They’re just as applicable to history, both that which we learn in school and the events happening in front of our own eyes. Going to the White House that night, I knew I was lucky to be there. Despite having done nothing to earn it, I was witnessing a moment in history and the climax of a very important story. And as pretentious as it may sound, I feel like I have a responsibility to bear witness to what I saw.
That gathering in front of the White House represents a culmination of decades of working. The path to marriage equality in the United States dates back to Harvey Milk’s first election, the Stonewall Riots, and beyond. It has been an incredibly difficult journey for so many people. But this day represents a substantive and meaningful victory. It is the heroic climax to a story filled with incredible characters, tragic turns, heroic turns, and all of the other elements that form long-lasting epics.
It is silly to think that the history of the gay rights movement is as formulaic as a movie. The rainbow shining on the White House is not the absolute victory of a detonated Death Star. There are still a lot of challenges to overcome. But the narrative it forms is an important one because we so often perceive and understand the world through stories. The story of June 26th may not give all people everything they deserve, but it can give us what we need to continue: hope.
As time goes on, the story of the night where rainbows shone throughout the night sky across America will grow. Those of us who were there will embellish and add details. It will move from a historical memory into the realm of legend, and that’s a good thing. This memory doesn’t belong to me. It’s not here for my benefit. The best possible thing I can do with this story is to share it, not just today, but years down the road when future generations are facing their own struggles.
This story, however it grows, will inspire us and give us hope. It is the story that tells us no matter how vicious the voices of bigotry are, they will one day be ignored. It is the story that tells us no matter how many challenges may arise, they can be overcome. It is the story that tells us no matter how ugly the worst days will be, better ones lie ahead.
It is the story that tells us #LoveWins.
Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he’ll accept no other answers. Don’t ask about his favorite comic unless you’re ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.