Melissa Etheridge: ‘I Am Now Married From Sea to Shining Sea’
I am now married from sea to shining sea. I got the news of the Supreme Court’s decision while I was in bed with my wife. I’m in Riverside, Iowa, on tour and hadn’t seen her in two weeks. We were in bed together when our phones started blowing up. Then we started celebrating.
Over the years I’ve managed to stay very positive about this issue. I knew it would happen. I really believed it was the time. I just couldn’t see us as a society going backwards. There isn’t often something like this in the news where you can say, “Wow, we did something good. We moved ourselves forward in the name of love.” Love is such a touchy, mushy thing that you might think it doesn’t belong in our halls of justice, but love is what it’s all about. Our movement is ascending and we’re not going backwards.
This American experiment goes back over 200 years to really amazing people like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. They created a document that could hold up for hundreds of years and guide our country though issues that they couldn’t even imagine back then, this being one of them. In the end, it came down to civil rights, to human rights.
The first time the gay community started even talking about gay marriage was at the end of the Nineties. There was a debate about whether or not marriage was even something we wanted. We used to say, “Marriage? That’s what the other people do.” But we started to realize that it was the pinpoint that brought gay rights all together. It took it out of the churches and of people’s fears and put it into a constitutional right, a human right. It began the whole thing.
It started in Hawaii and over the years has gone through our whole government, all the way to the Supreme Court. We knew it would eventually get there, but it might take 15 or 20 years. The change came really quickly and with just one generation. I think that happened because of the changes in the gay community itself. People stood up and said, “Yes, I’m gay, and I’m your family member, your co-worker, your neighbor down the street.” These were good, otherwise normal people that were contributing to society. That’s what causes hearts and minds to change, when you see it in your town and in your home.
The change was also caused by the Internet. Even if you live in a small town, you could suddenly get information from around the world. The windows to our world are huge. These otherwise small places where it might have taken longer to reach, because of our social media information age, it got sped along.
Just a few decades ago, very few public figures were out of the closet. There was definitely a sort of golden age when some of us were finding each other in Hollywood. We came from families that supported us. My family was like, “OK, you’re gay. That’s fine.” Having those backgrounds, when our careers reached a certain level, we were able to be confident and truthful in coming out. I do hope that did help this. It still warms my heart every time I go out in public and someone says, “You saved my life. You’re the reason that I’m out.” It means a lot to me.
You know what I think helped more than anything else? It was the crazy fundamentalists in the Westboro Baptist Church. People saw them picketing people’s funerals and they were just beside themselves. They thought, “I’m not that. Maybe I’m actually for this.” Remember after 9/11 when Jerry Falwell blamed it on the gays? After ridiculous things like that people go, “I’m not that, so I’m over here.”
The reaction to this by the Republican party has been interesting. The guys who made opposition to gay rights their platform are going to stand on it since they fear losing backing. They are fearful people, and the party is fronted by religious fundamentalists. But the country is changing. Their position just isn’t working for them anymore.
It’s incredible that Justice Kennedy, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, cast the deciding vote. You just never know what is in someone’s heart. Meanwhile, Scalia just looks like a buffoon. It’s like,”Wow, thou protest a little too much, dude?” Things like this will define Scalia’s legacy, which will be terrible.
The next battle in the movement will involve transgender issues. It will involve our whole society understanding the balance of male and female inside all of us. There’s no way to put gender and gender roles in a box anymore. I think what we see now that ten years in the future will look very different.
Beyond gay rights, the upcoming battles will involve health and wellness issues around cannabis. Also, I think we’ve set ourselves up in a medical paradigm where the medical community only makes money when we’re sick. I think that has to change. Furthermore, our prison system and our whole idea of punishment needs to change. I think all these issues will change for the better as our society continues to evolve.
(As told to Andy Greene.)