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    What a Difference a Decade Makes: The 10 Year Anniversary of the Marriage Caravan

    marriageequalityTen years ago this month, Marriage Equality USA leaders decided to channel the seemingly boundless energy of the San Francisco Winter of Love into a nationwide bus tour—the Marriage Equality Express—nicknamed “the caravan.” The caravan’s purpose was to give people across our nation the opportunity to meet LGBTQ couples, their friends, and family, see our common humanity, and to hear our real life stories of how marriage discrimination harms LGBTQ people.

    The 44 caravan riders included bi-national couples, whose relationships and families were torn apart or threatened because of DOMA; military veteran couples who had served under the burden of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; parents of LGBTQ people; children of LGBTQ couples; and ministers. The group was racially diverse, with African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and mixed race Americans all playing active and visible roles. We were thrilled to join the caravan.

    The caravan’s stops across the country varied widely. We joined local activists to conduct rallies in Reno, Denver, and St. Louis. In Washington DC, we put on the first national marriage equality rally. The national rally featured personal stories from all the caravan’s riders and speeches by DC Congressional delegate and civil rights legend Eleanor Holmes Norton and California State Senator Mark Leno.

    We also participated in local community events in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Columbus, Ohio. One unusual stop was at the Silver Bells Wedding Chapel in Reno, Nevada, where same-sex couples from the caravan, fully dressed in wedding attire, asked to get married. After the somewhat stunned receptionist declined, we switched partners so that we were different sex couples, and asked if the chapel could marry us. She responded they could. We explained that although we were friends with our new “partners,” we had years-long, loving, committed relationships with our real partners. The event illuminated the arbitrariness and absurdity of these exclusionary laws—and made front-page news.

    Everywhere we went, we utilized the media. The San Francisco Chronicle dispatched a reporter and photographer to travel with us and ran reports from the caravan daily. The caravan was usually the lead story on the local television news wherever we went. Even when there were small crowds for events, the local news stations and newspapers came out, enabling us to further our goal of putting a human face of the issue. C-SPAN 2 broadcast the entire rally nationwide.

    What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, none of the states on the caravan’s itinerary had marriage equality. Now, nearly all of them do: California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Key provisions of DOMA are now history, and Congress has repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    More work lies ahead, but the caravan contributed in its own unique way to the success the movement enjoys today. It continues to demonstrate that every step LGBTQ people, their friends, and family take—and every mile we log along this journey—bring us closer to our common goal of full nationwide equality.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.