Here at No Kids, Will Travel we typically focus on far-flung places, but this week we can’t help but celebrate an historic moment right here at home. Back to far-flung next week!
I have seen a lot of history during my career as a photojournalist. Some of it on the national stage, like inaugurations of U.S. presidents, and some of it so local that the only ones it’s history for are members the small communities where it happened. I have seen a lot of exciting, happy and fun things along with far too many sad stories. I’ve taken to burying my feelings and empathy as a defense mechanism, which can lead to awkwardness sometimes. So, this Friday when I arrived at the steps of the United States Supreme Court at 3:30 in the morning to see people lined up in hopes of getting tickets to sit in as they handed down rulings, my inner pessimist couldn’t help but think nothing is worth sleeping on a sidewalk for.
As the morning rolled on and we did live shot after live shot explaining how the court may or may not hand down a ruling affecting the lives of millions of Americans, including many who I count as family and friends.
I’ll admit I found myself wishing that justice be delayed until Monday for my own convenience. You see, if the court didn’t hand down a decision Friday at 10 a.m. I’d get to go home and get on the road for my four-hour drive to Pittsburgh on time at 11 a.m. If the court handed down the decision it would mean my day would last well past noon. I know it was selfish.
The crowd outside the court began to swell as the hour neared, and what a colorful crowd it was. People waved rainbow flags and carried signs supporting marriage equality. I never asked myself, looking out at the crowd, who’s gay and who’s not (I really don’t think it’s any of my business). Nearly everyone there was united by a sense of common justice, that everyone deserves equal rights, including the right to marry the spouse of your choice, regardless of sex.
The media, numbering in the hundreds with all their crews and cameras and lights making the court’s front sidewalk look like an act from the Las Vegas strip, has a strange and fascinating tradition on days when they think history is going to be made. It’s called the running of the interns. The reporters who need to be on camera almost never go inside the highest court in the land. Instead, they send in interns, some paid and some not, to sit in and take notes as they wait for the verdict to be handed down. Outside, we all watch the door below the steps of the courthouse as the minutes tick by, first 5 then 10. Some start to think the decision will not be made.
All of the sudden from behind the stairs one figure is seen sprinting across the plaza, than a second, followed by a third, each in a tight-lipped race to give the verdict to his or her reporter first. Their goal is to give their reporter and network the right to say they brought the news to the public before anyone else.
We watch the reporters from the various networks confer with their interns for what seems like forever, as still more people came running out of the courthouse until — on the far end of the plaza where the crowd of supporters had gathered — a cheer of celebration went up. That’s when we knew the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, had just confirmed marriage is a civil right granted to all citizens regardless of sexual preference.
I was given the assignment of wading into the crowd and getting as much of the reaction as I could. I had to hold my 15-pound camera high over my head to get the mass reaction and try to avoid getting crushed in the celebration. I could hear the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington singing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha and singing the “Star Spangled Banner” with pride.
The feeling, or “vibe” as Amanda put it, was one of elation and pride at the recognition of equality. I met couples that had been together 40 years, in tears knowing the state would now officially endorse the legal rights of their partnership, their vows and most importantly their love.
The police had to block off an entire lane of traffic as the celebration overflowed into the street. I think even the control-happy Capitol Police realized they could bend a little for the celebration of equality deferred too long.
I too, with all my cynicism, couldn’t help but feel good leaving the Supreme Court. It was a long, hard day, but in perspective the delay in me seeing my wife was insignificant compared to the delay in affirming the LGBT community’s right to have their love recognized by all of America.