The anniversaries of May 17th are bittersweet

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe


When you reside at the intersections of multiple identities, anniversaries of your civil rights struggles can be both bitter and sweet. And, May 17th was a reminder.

Read Rev. Irene Monroe commentary on Morehouse College admitting trans male students 

At 12:01 am on May 17, 2004, the city of Cambridge Massachusetts was one of the first to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Then, at 9:15 am, the first couple was married. Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury said to Tanya McCluskey, 52, and Marcia Kadish, 56, of Malden, “I now pronounce you married under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Also, on that day was the 50th anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court case of “Brown v. Board of Education, “a ruling that upended this country’s “separate but equal” doctrine, adopted in the “Plessy v. Ferguson” decision of 1896.

Joy washed over me that day. My now-spouse and I could follow McCluskey’s and Kadish’s footsteps and be legally married. But we could not rejoice over the limited success, huge failures, and ongoing resistance of “Brown” that allowed a few of us entry into some of the top universities of this country, as it continues to be challenged as a form of reverse discrimination.

On this year’s 65th anniversary of “Brown v. Board of Education” African Americans and Latinx Americans continue to attend segregated schools. And here in Boston, and across the nation, they also attend high-poverty urban schools with metal detectors. And, sadly, policing while schooling has doubled since 2001.

It was once thought that access to quality education would dismantle, for future generations, the pox of bigotry and ignorance their parents inherited. But race and class, unfortunately, continue to be discriminating indices upholding not only “separate” school systems but also “unequal” treatment of students.

This year on May 17th marked the fifteenth anniversary of marriage equality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Looking back at advances such as hate crime laws, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, and the legalization of marriage equality, to name a few, the LGBT community has come a long way since the first Pride marches.

I give thanks for these advances. And I had the opportunity to write Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who wrote the landmark decision in “Goodridge v. Department of Public Health” the following thank you note in April 2016:

“When I left for New England Cable News on Friday I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would meet you there. And, of all things take a group photo with you and my buddies Sue O’Connell and Scott Kearnan. WOW! And, thank you!

“The closest I came to meeting you was once, many tables removed from the stage, when you spoke at the GLAD 2013 Spirit of Justice Awardee.

“A tsunami of thanks I send your way for authoring the “Goodridge” case, allowing me and so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters across this beautiful Commonwealth of Massachusetts to marry the person we love. As an African American lesbian, there aren’t too many places in this country I feel protected by state laws.

“The Goodridge decision bestowed upon me full citizen-state rights that when same-sex marriage was legally recognized on May 17, 2004, I then began to proudly lift my voice and say, “I, too, am Massachusetts!”

This June will be the fourth anniversary of “Obergefell v. Hodges,” the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The ruling was a great day similar, I surmise, to that day in June 1967 when the Supreme Court case of Loving versus the State of Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.

However, with victory comes backlash. Opposition to the SCOTUS decision went public with born again Christian Kim Davis. The now infamous Kentucky County clerk not only refused to issue marriage licenses to a same-sex couple, but she forbade her co-workers to do so, too.

There is the talk among Christian evangelicals of walking back “Obergefell v. Hodges” without disrupting other precedents on marriage,” Rebecca Buckwaler-Poza wrote in the article The End of Gay Rights in the June 2017 issue of Pacific Standard Magazine.

“The Supreme Court can significantly undermine LGBT rights even without reversing a single case. The Court can strip the rights to intimacy and marriage of their meaning, carving away gradually and masking the magnitude of changes by phrasing them in arcane legal terms.”

And, last year, the Supreme Court ruled in “Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission” in favor of Jack Phillips, the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds of religious freedom.

Over the years, I’ve learned that joy can share its space with sadness.

May 17th is always one of those days.

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe

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