Over one million people attended the San Francisco Pride Parade last Sunday, and I was one of them. Having just returned from attending the National Employment Lawyers Association Summit for Worker’s Rights in Denver, I got caught up in the excitement of my daughter and her high school friends as they prepared to leave for their trip to the City.
Four days earlier, the United States Supreme Court had announced two long-awaited decisions affecting same sex marriage – Hollingsworth v. Perry leaving intact the California Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Proposition 8, and United States v. Windsor, declaring Section 3 of the Orwellian-titled Defense of Marriage Act [“DOMA”] an unconstitutional denial of equal protection of more than one thousand federal laws affecting marital or spousal status. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Windsor did not mince words: “DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
After waving goodbye to the kids, we parents rapidly made a decision: a beautiful day, a historic occasion—how could we miss it?! As soon as we reached the BART platform, we were surrounded by riders in rainbow-hued tights, tutus, face paint, headgear, and jewelry. As we rode from station to station, the train filled to bursting with riders of every age, race, and family circumstance – gaggles of glittery teenage girls, two-mom families with preschoolers, heterosexual couples with costumed babies, pierced bike riders, and elderly same-sex couples sporting rainbow beads. It felt like half the population of the East Bay was traveling to the Pride celebration.
Despite my understanding the legal and historical importance of the Windsor decision, I was still unprepared for its emotional impact on the crowd. Parade participants weren’t just celebrating California’s legal right to marry – they were bearing witness to society’s validation of individual choices and family ties. Float after float, sponsored by Google, Kaiser and other large mainstream institutions, rode down Market Street accompanied by waving employees who were embraced by the cheering crowd. “All love is equal!” chanted marchers bearing equality signs in all the colors of the rainbow. Market Street was vibrating with a palpable sense of pride, joy, gratitude – and relief.
The founders of this country wisely named “the pursuit of happiness” as one of the inalienable rights of mankind. My experience at the Pride Parade last Sunday brought me a deeper appreciation for that foundational principle, and for the efforts of those who work every day to extend the blessing of this social contract to the hopes, dreams and pursuits of all our citizens.