Sue Green is a former journalist and the broadcast director of Cronkite News Service at Arizona State University. Four years ago, she married her partner of 15 years. She first moved to Arizona in 1979.
My father used to tell me how he had to wait years for his marriage to be accepted in every state, but he didn’t say it with pity. He said it with pride because he had to fight for it.. You see he got married in 1961, six years before the Loving vs. Virginia ruling was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court making it legal for all interracial couples to get married. Just straight couples of course, but hey, it was a step in the right direction.
My parents – a black man from California and a white woman from Liverpool - had a party that weekend to celebrate their freedom, their freedom to go where they wanted and not be afraid they would be turned away because by simply loving each other, they were breaking laws. When they married, only 24 states recognized their marriage. They even had to battle the military to get “permission” to. They met in England in 1959 and, like many G-I’s and British women, they fell in love and wanted to be together, to make a family. They just wanted to get married. But there was nothing logical about it because in more than half the states back home in the U.S., it was against the law.
After being called in to meetings with some of his superiors who spent hours trying to dissuade him, often questioning my mother’s motives, my father stuck by the side of the woman he loved, and the military eventually gave in, having no choice but to allow them to marry. No derogatory words yelled at both my mother and father during these meetings, or even threats, were going to change their minds. They loved each other and wanted to get married like their other friends.
After my mother and father were called into the offices of my dad’s bosses, and my mother called a whore, and threatened with not being able to get a VISA, and my dad being told he had to make a choice, my dad’s superiors realized this tactic would not work, and my father finally got the go-ahead and was told they could marry, but we could never be stationed at any base in any state where “miscegenation” was against the law. We would not be heading South. Quickly, my father agreed and got on the phone with my mother, telling her to grab her wedding dress which had been hanging in her closet for months. He wanted to get to registrar’s office before the military powers that be would change their minds.
That afternoon, they found a preacher, got my mother’s family together, and stood before the priest, God and a handful of friends and committed themselves to each other, regardless of the law in some states. That commitment was as strong the day my father died as it was the day they tied the knot, knowing they faced an uphill battle. But not letting it scare them off.
Because of the laws against interracial marriages, we could not get orders to be sent to live in any of the states that did not recognize their marriage like Texas or Arizona, but that didn’t matter. My dad said there were plenty of other places that would accept him, his white wife and bi-racial child. We were eventually sent to California, and I quickly came along, followed 14 months later by my sister, and 14 month’s later by my brother.
This interracial family with four young children who couldn’t have looked more different sort of stood out on the base. It seemed as if when we came out one after the other we got lighter and our hair got straighter. My brother could easily have passed for white, but not the rest of us. But while some people might have called us names, it didn’t bother us. We lived in a house where we knew our parents really wanted us, and were even willing to break the law to have us. How many people could say that?! We sort of lived in this safety cocoon at least while we lived on that base in California.
Then in 1967 everything changed. The Supreme Court said my parent’s marriage had to be recognized, and we were no longer “bastards” as some had called us. We were legal, everywhere. At that point in my life, little did I know that fighting for marriage equality was far from over for me, that it was to become somewhat of a tradition for me.
You see, some 46 years later I found myself facing the same challenges my parents had faced when I decided to marry the woman of my dreams. My marriage to Robin Phillips was only legal in so many states, and many people told us don’t do it, it’s not worth the trouble, it will never be recognized. Sound familiar? Even Robin, my partner at the time had refused my marriage proposals several times when I asked her to marry me because she said she didn’t want to get married until all states would recognize it.
It wasn’t until I had to have a life threatening surgery that she finally gave in, married me, and wiped my sloppy tears as the minister conducted our ceremony on the beach in Provincetown, Mass., one of the few states that would recognize my marriage.
I didn’t realize how important this was to me until we signed our marriage license application and I realized this was how my parents felt, signing that paper, knowing that not everyone would recognize their marriage, but knowing they would, and that’s all that counted. It didn’t mater if it was just the two of us, or the 300 million people in the country, I just wanted to be married to Robin, and I didn’t care what the courts, lawmakers, voters or anyone else had to say about it. I knew that In Massachusetts I was “legal” and I was going to be legally married somewhere.
I felt my parents by my side even though they were not physically there as the wedding day arrived. Robin, myself, the minister and two new friends stood there as we said our vows, heartfelt vows that summed up what we felt in the past, what we felt in that moment and what we were sure to feel in the future when the entire world would recognize what our small group of friends and family recognized, that we were now married.
Robin and I are lucky, we came home from our wedding and our neighbors had decorated our house. Before Pete and June knew us, they did not have friends who were gay, but after getting to know us as just “regular” people, they knew how important it was that we come home to Arizona, a state that did not recognize same sex marriage, and let us know they were with us. Heck, let the entire neighborhood know! Two other friends, Mark and Val, asked if they could throw us a wedding party. We have incredibly supportive family and friends, and we are just waiting for the day when they get to celebrate our “fully fledged marriage” with us, and not in just the 30 states where it is recognized.
I can go into the many legal reasons this is so important, but on this day, a day I was afraid I would never see before I passed, I would rather just spend the time thanking my family and friends for their support, the love of my wife Robin who has seen me through some tough times the past few years, the many people who I don’t know but who have fought to give Robin and I these rights, and my mother and father, those 63 years ago who taught me that it doesn’t matter if everyone agrees with you. If your love is strong enough it will be strong enough to survive all the hurtful words, and looks and comments over the years.
They taught me that it was also my responsibility to the many who might not be as strong, and together as Robin and I have been strong enough to wait together, arm in arm not just with each other but our friends and family for this day, this day when our home state of Arizona is forced to recognize our marriage.
So, I say Thank You to all the people before me who have fought for the basic rights to be married, and those after who will continue to fight for others. Because what I have found is that love is indeed enough to see you through the tough times, and it is an amazing love that hopefully will help those who might not agree with these decisions to remember we are people with hearts and feelings, and if you can’t support us, at least respect the idea that we love each other as much as you might love the person you are with.
I thank the 9th Circuit Court for falling on the side of those who support the idea that all people are created equal, and are willing to stand behind those words. While I wish that the voters of Arizona had had another chance to make this decision, I am happy that the court at least has seen that here in Arizona, Robin and I are like any other married couple. I thank you for helping me to once again have a reason for thanking my mother and father for showing me that no matter how difficult the journey, it is well worth each step of the way because you meet the most amazing and incredible people. Along the journey They might not always agree with everything you say, but they are good people, and they will amaze you at times when they stand up for you, so you remember to stand up for those who need your support.