Stephen Henderson’s Essay on Gay Marriage

One year ago yesterday, 322 gay couples took advantage of a 10-hour window in which the law made their dreams legal.

One of my favorite Paul Simon songs includes a line that has been stuck in my head since yesterday.  He says “Look at that, look at this, lovers merge and make a wish… They close their eyes, and now their dreams are legal…”

A year ago yesterday, 322 gay couples took advantage of a 10-hour window in which the law made their dreams legal – they went out and got married, after a federal judge struck down our state’s constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage, saying it was in conflict with the 14th amendment to the federal constitution.

10 hours. 322 couples, all anxious, after years of denial, to declare their love to each other and pledge their faith to an institution that is as old as any civilization, and as freighted with meaning as any cultural symbol or tradition.

The evolving status of gay unions under our laws has taken us further since then, back to the U.S. Supreme Court, where next month the justices will decide, probably in a final sense, whether equal protection in this country includes the right to marry whomever you want, regardless of sexual orientation.

No doubt, there are many arguments to consider on both sides of the issue – legal, moral, religious, historical.

But I also think there’s something intrinsic, and entangled about the raw emotions that drive gay couples to want to marry. The words to that Paul Simon song have always been instructive, I think.

“Lovers merge, and make a wish.” It’s a testament to love’s optimism, and hope.

“They close their eyes, and now their dreams are legal.” Close your eyes, and your wishes will come true; your dreams become reality.

Looking at the picture of the couples who celebrated yesterday – in the newspaper, and on my facebook stream – those were the emotions in their eyes, those were the hopes in their hearts.

There’s something universal about those feelings that I think we should all be able to acknowledge – and welcome.

I remember 12 years ago, when I was a reporter in Washington covering the Supreme Court, that first spring when the justices announced their decision in Lawrence v. Texas – one of the first rulings that paved the way toward greater legal protection for gay Americans.

Sitting in the front row of the courtroom was Lawrence Tribe, the former Harvard President and a prominent attorney who had argued, and lost, an important gay rights case at the high court 15 years earlier. As the justices read their ruling from the bench, Tribe was sobbing – tears of joy, presumably – over the long road that had led to that victory. His eyes were closed, as I remember. And his dreams, suddenly, were legal.


Views expressed in Stephen Henderson’s commentary are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of WDET, its management or the station licensee, Wayne State University.


  • Stephen Henderson is host of Detroit Today and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He is Executive Editor of BridgeDetroit and host of American Black Journal on Detroit Public Television.