As an African-American lesbian, the struggle for equal rights has always been personal for me.
I was born in Kansas in 1957, three years after the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision litigated in that state made segregation in public schools illegal nationwide. I then moved to Alabama and attended segregated schools until 1967, a full thirteen years after segregation was formally outlawed.
Fast forward to Alabama almost five decades later, and the quest for equal rights continues.
Alabama has become the thirty-seventh state to allow for same-sex marriages. A federal judge paved the way by ruling that marriage restrictions were unconstitutional.
But the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, has said no, reprising the role played by George Wallace half a century ago. In 1963, the then-governor literally blocked the entrance to the University of Alabama in an infamous attempt to thwart integration. The same year, Wallace intervened to stop integration in schools in Huntsville, Ala. I was in school in that city at the time.
Officials in Alabama are making individual decisions about whether to follow the order of the federal judge or the decree of their chief justice. The majority of Alabama counties are currently denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This is reminiscent of the refusal to allow black folks their rights fifty years ago.
According to the Pew Research Center, fifty-two percent of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage. The figure is even higher among millennials, at sixty-seven percent. And the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the federal ruling on Alabama to stay, possibly signaling that in June it will rule that all fifty states must allow for same-sex marriages.
The tide is shifting both in the judiciary and in the court of public opinion. Civil rights based on race took some time beyond court rulings, but was eventually achieved. Civil rights based on sexual orientation will inevitably follow the same path.
Elizabeth Ann Thompson is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.