In 1927, my grandfather, Thomas Day, sailed to America on the ship Corinthia from Clara, Ireland, passing by the Statue of Liberty before landing at Ellis Island. Two decades later, his daughter, my mother, Rosemary, was born as a first generation American in the great state of New York. Her future husband, Hugh, was born not far away.
New York runs deep through my family's blood. My parents were born and met there, and my brother has lived there for more than a decade. So last night, my heart was in my throat as I watched the historic vote that would make same sex marriage legal in the great state.
I was watching the vote unfold via Twitter, sitting on my couch in Alabama. When I heard the news, I texted my brother:
"Congratulations, it's passed. You can get married!"
It seemed a thing too big to text. I found out this morning that while I was texting him, his friends were hailing a cab and pushing him into it, to go directly to Stonewall, where the fight for gay rights began 42 years ago this weekend. (Cliff Notes: During the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, after Judy Garland's funeral, there was a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a bar frequented by gay patrons. They fought back, during what's widely recognized as the start of the gay rights movement.) In short:
So Ryan and his friends went to Stonewall. "It was one of the most amazing days of my life," he said, recalling what it was like to stand shoulder to shoulder outside Stonewall last night. One by one, his other friends joined the mix. They hadn't called each other, but knew to come. This was history being made.
He called me this morning to describe the scene. At his apartment, his friends were gathered to decorate and get ready for the parade. We exchanged some words that I'll keep private about his hopes. But they're the same hopes we all have.
And thanks to the votes -- from both Democrats and Republicans -- my brother will get to have his chance.
The meaning was not lost on us when we went to the Alabama Theatre today, taking five year old Nate to see "The Wizard of Oz" for the first time. (To be fair, we'd planned it weeks in advance.)
I'd rushed to meet my family at the theater -- Mom, Dad, Shane, and Nate. My little boy was going to see this classic that I'd seen so many times -- flanked by my brother and sister in our suburban Florida home -- on the big screen.
A wedding had come so easily for me -- the act, that is. When I found the person, we simply went to the courthouse and got a certificate. Then there was the poofy white dress, and the bridesmaids in fushia. It was so different for my brother, and for so many of our friends.
"If happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow/why can't I?"
Minutes into the film, Judy Garland began her trademark tune, and I had to choke back tears. Judy Garland, whose passing years later sparked something in a group of bar patrons that made them push back and say "no."
"Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true."
My heart was in my chest. Oh, Judy. Oh, struggle.
And today, so many years after our grandfather came to this country, my brother is able to have the same right as I.
After the movie, we went outside and took these photos. (Have I mentioned how amazing our entire family is?)
This is what freedom looks like.
Although I never knew my grandfather, I know my Mom and the lessons she's taught us. Above all: there is love. It's what I'm teaching Nate.
He's too young now to understand Stonewall, and June 25, 2011. But someday I will teach him. The thing is, during his first viewing of "The Wizard Of Oz," his country was shifting, slowly. It was the result of many generations, and it has not yet impacted his home state -- Alabama -- as it has New York.
There are many more battles to fight. Only six states have legalized same-sex marriage. I have attended the weddings of friends in other states that still don't recognize their unions as legal.
But if birds fly over the rainbow ... why can't we?