What Marriage Equality Means to Us

As Executive Director, I'm the primary voice of Creating Iris, and frequently speak on behalf of our whole team. All of our updates - emails, blog posts, tweets, Facebook statuses - are written by me. But today, I'm writing from a personal place for myself and Rebecca, because you, our Iris family, are a big part of our lives.

Rebecca and I had been dating for a little over six months when the historic Windsor v. US decision was announced. We watched together, on Skype, surrounded by family. Prior to that day, a future together was up in the air - not because we were uncertain of the other, but because we didn't know whether the legal protections would be in place to enable us to be together. We're a binational couple, as you know. Edie Windsor's fight for recognition from the federal government gave us our future together. This is the post I wrote that day.

Almost a year to to the day after the Windsor decision, Rebecca and I got engaged at a beautiful park not too far from my home. We stood under an early-20th century gazebo on a day of brilliant sunshine, and said aloud what it seemed like we'd always known, from the moment we met. I love you. I want to spend my life with you. I want to grow with you, to change with you, to walk beside you and to build a life, to build a family, together. Like many of my friends, we announced our relationship on Facebook and received so many beautiful messages of support. My parents treated us to an engagement dinner. I joined WeddingBee and made dozens of Pinterest mood boards. In December, we celebrated with friends at an engagement tea party. When I ordered our invitations, it was the first time - apart from Iris, of course - that I'd seen our names in print beside each other. I opened the box and cried.

Today, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in an effort to decide whether marriage equality should be a fundamental American civil right. My right to a legally recognized marriage should not be in question. It should be my right as an American, the birthright of people born on this soil and the conferred right of those who seek American citizenship, to be equal in dignity and protection before the law.

On my mother's side, I am third-generation American. My great-grandmother came to this country at sixteen, a poor Italian girl with little command of the English language. At Ellis Island she was almost turned away because of a limp, a lasting reminder of a childhood accident. I am grateful every day that the doctor who examined her took the time to listen to her, to figure out what she was trying to explain in broken English: that she limped because of an accident in New York, on a trip as a little girl to the country she wanted to call home. My great-grandparents came to this country in search of a better life, because they believed that it was here that they could provide for a family and watch it blossom: have children, and see them grow. My great-grandparents believed in this country because it offered them life, a life that would simply not have been possible for them in Italy.

My great-grandfather and grandfather fought for this country because, children of immigrants, they believed wholeheartedly that America is more than a place, more than a political entity, but an idea: a place where all people had a chance at building the life they wanted, that their children deserved access to education, that they had a voice in their government, that they - poor, working-class, Italian immigrants - were just as valued as the man in the White House. They believed, as we all do, that those ideas were worth defending.

That commitment to equality - that ideal that has inspired men and women to fight passionately for this country, in our armed services and in our government halls, on our streets and in our schools, in our stories and our songs - is something that has been continually redefined. That's the beauty of this country: we are a country of change, of progress, of choosing to move forward when it is easier to stay the same. We're a country that makes difficult decisions, even if it sometimes takes us a while to get there. Sometimes, we take steps backwards; sometimes, we dig in our heels against it. And yet, we carry on. We are forever striving towards that ideal of equality.

The debate over marriage is but one front of the movement towards the American ideal that was a beacon to immigrants like my great-grandparents. For Rebecca and I, it means that our relationship will have all the legal protections as everyone else's. That's not a question of religion. It's a question of a fundamental civil right to equality before the law. And affirming that right will be but another step on the staircase carrying us ever closer to our highest ideal.

Next year, like several of my dear friends who were engaged over the same summer as we, Rebecca and I will stand before our families and friends and make the same promises that other couples do. We will have a personal ceremony, one we've written together that reflects who we are and how far we've come, but the vows we take - the words we speak - will be the same. We'll wear white dresses and add a few more diamonds to our left hands. There will be sparkling rose and music from our friends. My dad will make a toast and probably make us cry. My brother will make a toast and make us all laugh. There will be dancing. There will be joy. There will be excitement for the future. There will be life.

For couples like us, the fundamental right to marriage means life.