The Will of the People … And Mothers
By Sheryl McAlister, a freelance writer based in South Carolina, and editor of Old Broad & New Trix
At the center of a lawsuit in South Carolina demanding basic civil rights were the bold and courageous words of a 13-year-old boy: “Do it, Mom,” this young man said of the filing. “I don’t care what people know. I’m not ashamed.”
Much has been and will continue to be written in the coming weeks and months about the legal battle currently being fought by a young couple and their attorneys. Filed nearly one year ago in Federal District Court, the suit seeks to allow the couple’s legal marriage to be recognized in South Carolina. The case seeks to overturn South Carolina’s 2007 Constitutional Amendment against marriage equality.
A grass roots group has assembled to support the legal battle and raise funds for the ongoing administrative costs associated with the filing. The Columbia attorneys – Carrie Warner and John Nichols – are working pro bono. The group was organized by a pair of sisters, who wear the fact that they’re different like a badge of honor. Endorsed by a legendary figure in South Carolina’s civil rights movement, the group is poised for action with a singular focus.
I will resist the temptation to use the cliche about the strength of small groups of people dedicated to a cause. We’ll see how this plays out. But, truthfully, it was nearly overwhelming to look around the table and see a dozen middle aged or older people focused solely on the story of a young family simply trying to live its life and the courage of a young lawyer and her colleague fighting to help them do just that.
They didn’t ask for help. But they welcome it. They didn’t ask anyone to foot the bill for them. The attorneys are donating their time. They came to the meeting because we asked them to share their story. And here it is.
A young couple – a South Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper and a military veteran – married in Washington, DC, in 2012. They have made South Carolina their home to raise their family, which includes 3 children. When the youngest son was born, he faced catastrophic health issues that required around-the-clock parental and medical attention. His twin sister was in the hospital with his birth mother just after they were born. His biological mother was denied access to him at another hospital because “she wasn’t his legal or birth mother.”
This is the story of 2 mothers. The lawsuit had its genesis in their desire to protect their child. In fact, the LGBTQ civil rights movement in South Carolina was started 25 years ago by a mother’s desire to support her child. No political agendas. Just maternal instincts. And they are a powerful weapon.
It took about an hour before the group, gathered last night at a local Columbia restaurant, unanimously decided to go all-in. We were proud of this couple and their attorneys, particularly the lead attorney who had seen a need and filled the void early on. We were proud of all they represented, and we were eager with anticipation of what a victory would mean.
You see, marriage discussion didn’t really occur during the lives of most of the people around that table. Early on when you realize all the rules weren’t written for you, you learn to work around them. You don’t actually break them because they don’t protect or apply to you anyway. You just do the best you can with what you do have. You don’t spend a lot of time focusing on what you don’t have.
The Declaration of Independence provides each of us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while The United States Constitution outlines how the government will function. But while we each have those rights, the law only lets certain people go so far in the pursuit of them. I’d like to believe if this country’s founders knew better, they’d have done better.
I actually think Oprah originally said “If you know better, you do better.” The image of a billionaire, black, business woman wagging her finger at the founding fathers makes me almost giggle.
These South Carolina women are not ordinary activists. But then, the real heroes in a movement don’t usually start out that way. They are simply trying to protect their children.
Marian Wright Edelman once said: “The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people’s children.” Her statement is one of the fundamental truths in this debate.
Earlier this week, the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The ruling paves the way for other Southern states, including South Carolina. Carrie Warner, John Nichols, Tracie Goodwin and Katie Bradacs are ready.
Copyright 2014 Sheryl McAlister