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    By Kate Kendell, Esq.

    As I write this, I am three days away from hopping a plane to DC. I am going to see oral argument in NCLR’s Tennessee marriage equality case before the U.S. Supreme Court in the current, and by all accounts, final marriage hearing. It is amazing to think we are on the brink of winning marriage nationwide. No ifs, ands, or buts. Twenty-one years ago marked the beginning of the modern marriage movement with litigation in Hawaii.

    Twenty-one years ago, I began my career at NCLR, first as Legal Director and then as Executive Director. If you had told me when I started at NCLR that we would be on the brink of winning full and equal marriage rights in every state and for every same-sex couple, I would have wanted what you were smoking.


    But here we are.

    How did this happen?

    It happened because of you. And the people who love and care about you. And the people who know you and checked their prejudice because they knew you. It happened because you marched, rallied, spoke up, stood tall, lived openly, wrote checks, penned letters, gave time, fought back, refused to give up, kept hope alive, and because you believed in your simple humanity and the promise of equality.

    When San Francisco ignited the second decade of this fight in 2004, this city and almost everyone in it began to believe that winning marriage wasn’t a lifetime away and shouldn’t be. Then Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and thousands of you and many others ringed City Hall for weeks. When NCLR helped win marriage in California in 2008, we were joined by much of the rest of the nation in believing that maybe winning marriage was within our grasp.

    Our faith lagged with the passage of Proposition 8, but then unlikely allies, non-gay super lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies, jumped in to challenge Prop 8. In 2013, I was lucky enough to be at the Supreme Court for my very first oral argument, when the challenge to Prop 8 and Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act were argued to the Court. It was exhilarating to be a witness to this history, and to know that in a few short weeks both Prop 8 and the heart of DOMA would be dead.

    Since the Supreme Court struck down the key section of DOMA and Prop 8, our fight to win the freedom to marry has been at full throttle. Last year at this time, there were 19 states in which we could marry. Today there are 37. In one year we gained 18 states!

    And now we are in the final chapter on marriage. I will be carrying this city and everything we have been through with me as I watch the arguments. There will be poetry in that moment, because the four main legal organizations that have been steadfast in working to win the freedom to marry will all be represented before the Court. NCLR, Lambda Legal, ALCU, and GLAD are all involved in the remaining four cases from Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. We are joined by dogged local attorneys, pro bono firms, and inspiring clients.

    My great friend and hero, Mary Bonauto, will be one of the attorneys arguing before the Court along with NCLR’s own co-counsel Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, from the DC law firm Ropes & Gray. Collectively, this team has over 100 years of experience doing LGBT advocacy.

    I, like almost everyone, believe a majority of the Court will rule that we enjoy the same constitutionally protected right to marry the person we love as everyone else. To make it all the more delicious, we may get that ruling in the day or two before San Francisco Pride. Damn. That will be one hell of a celebration, and very well deserved.

    Of course, as we well know, we won’t be nearly finished. We will still face a backlash. We will still have opponents—some toxic, most just feckless—and more importantly, we will still have unfinished work. LGBT youth, transgender men and women, undocumented immigrants, and poor or rural LGBT people will still face enormous challenges and daily threats.

    But if the past 21 years is any indication, it’s nothing we can’t tackle.

    Kate Kendell, Esq., is the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

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