By Dr. Susie Tanchel
Tears of joy! “Equal protection under the law” are the words everywhere on my Facebook feed. This is simultaneously a landmark moment for American society and a transformative occasion for my individual family and all those like us living across this land. Equality and justice are profound societal ideals that are enacted in simple, but powerful ways in our everyday lives.
In this week’s parsha, Hukkat, God tells Moses that he will not enter the Promised Land. The reason for this is clear: Moses did not affirm God’s sanctity in the midst of the people (Num. 20:12). This was a grave enough sin that the finest prophet in all of Jewish history (Deut. 34:10) could not fulfill what would have been the goal of his leadership tenure. Apparently it was not enough to affirm God’s sanctity in private by doing courageous deeds like leading a People out of Egypt and putting up with all their complaints in the desert. A public affirmation matters significantly. Today the Supreme Court publicly affirmed the sanctity of my marriage by granting it the dignity of enjoying equal protection under the law. This is so huge let me write it again: My marriage to my wife is precisely the same as my straight friends’ marriages. The public recognition and resulting dignity that comes from this is immeasurable.
For the 10 years of our marriage, my wife and I have asked one another as we entered a new state, “Does our marriage count here?” Visiting others states, we worried if, God forbid, we were in a car accident and one of us were seriously injured, would the other be allowed to visit her in the hospital. When I became a citizen in 2006, I was told for the purposes of immigration, I was single; my marriage did not exist in the eyes of the law. And the list goes on or more precisely it went on… now our rights are assured. Now my marriage is recognized everywhere.
Laws obviously matter for the myriad of ways that they legislate our lives, but they also represent a society’s values and ideals – they are the representation of us – who we are and what we care about. Now this nation is sending the affirming message to millions of people, you count too, just the same as everyone else. Now children growing up with two parents of the same gender know that their family is exactly the same as everyone else’s. Day in and day out this is the stuff that matters.
As Justice Kennedy wrote, “marriage embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family”. I am forever grateful to all those who worked for this change and to the Supreme Court for affirming the sanctity of my marriage in the midst of the people of this land and around the world. Although Moses was not blessed to enter the literal Promised Land, I feel that today my family and I, and the millions like us, have taken a giant step into our figurative Promised Land.