Op-ed: In Mass. Politics, Love Now Dares to Speak Its Name
After my speech at the Massachusetts Democratic Convention in June, my partner, Jacob, came onstage, and — just like every other candidate and their loved ones — we kissed.
What happened next was just a little extraordinary: nothing.
No questions from reporters. No comments from delegates, volunteers, or voters. No social media outcry — positive or negative. Nothing from any of my opponents. There was simply no reaction that was any different from what my fellow candidates got.
And to me, that seems noteworthy.
That sense of having witnessed a nonevent is by no means a given — even in 2014. To me, that’s a key part of what makes Massachusetts such an extraordinary place.
We’ve come a long way from the uproar of earlier generations, and even from 10 years ago, when we had a governor who said that marriage equality flew in the face of 3,000 years of history.
Today, not only is sexual orientation no big deal, candidates are openly competing to prove who’s the most LGBT-friendly — even Republicans!
I remember — years before I came out of the closet myself — working with Sen. Ted Kennedy on issues like AIDS research and the Ryan White CARE Act, back when many national leaders refused to even admit these were issues. But now, the awareness and urgency of these matters are so universal that it’s almost easy to forget how controversial even treating AIDS once was.
Here in Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy was always a stalwart supporter of LGBT rights — for him, it was an issue of equality, nothing more or less. He demonstrated that in everything he did, from fighting for employment nondiscrimination and much needed research dollars to being one of the first politicians to mention us in a speech at a national party convention, he was there for us.
That progressivism — not only tolerance, but a willingness and determination to stand up and fight for equality — is one of the qualities I admired most in Senator Kennedy, and I believe it’s indicative of the Bay State in general.
Slowly, the rest of the country is catching up to the example set by Massachusetts.
In June of 2012, just a month after President Obama announced that he was in favor of marriage equality, it was amazing to be invited to the Pride reception at the White House and to hear him, the president of the United States, declare unequivocally that my partner and I should have the same rights, privileges, and obligations as any other American.
The 2012 Democratic National Convention, for which I served as CEO, made history later that year by making marriage equality a clear piece of our party’s policy platform. And on a freezing day the following January, I watched our president take his oath of office and compare our struggles and successes to America’s other great civil rights movements.
And truly, our position today was hard-won. All over the country, we stand on the shoulders of people like Harvey Milk, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Edith Windsor, and everyone else who has fought and who continues to fight to make who we are unremarkable.
None of this is to say that we don’t have plenty more work to do, both here in Massachusetts and around the country. The fight for respect and equality at all levels is ongoing and as important as ever. But our progress is always worth celebrating.
Last month I met a long-closeted man from the Cape in his 60s who choked up as he told me, “I don’t talk about this publicly but … it’s quite a thing to see you and your partner here, being proud of who you are.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had mentioned Jacob to me in such a way during the campaign, but it was pretty close.
I am not just proud of who I am — I’m proud of where I live.
Ten years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to establish marriage equality, and our commonwealth continues to lead the country today. In this election season, I’m proud to be running in a race focused on the issues we face together as a commonwealth and on the candidates’ experiences and visions.
Because equality isn’t just about what laws are on the books or what positions are taken on national TV; it’s also about making a world where nothing about who we love is remarkable at all.
STEVE KERRIGAN is a candidate for lieutenant governor in Massachusetts. He was a longtime aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy, CEO of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and CEO of President Obama’s second inauguration. For more information about Steve, visit www.stevekerrigan.org.