Emmett Patterson stood near the steps of the Supreme Court, carrying a New Old Glory rainbow flag.
Around him, same-sex marriage supporters passed out American flags and held up homemade signs that read “God loves us all equally” and “Love is love.”
Patterson, a 2012 graduate of Trinity High School and a freshman at American University in Washington, D.C., was among the thousands who rallied outside the Supreme Court March 19 and 20 as the justices heard arguments in two cases involving gay marriage.
“The rally was amazing. Everyone had a voice that day. It was powerful to stand among members of the movement to unite over an issue that is so important to many people,” said Patterson, a transgender male who won the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network national Student Advocate of the Year award in 2011.
While the justices prepared to consider whether to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, advocates of same-sex marriage with ties to Washington County closely followed the news.
Sgt. Keith Winkelman, 24, a 2007 Trinity High School graduate, is a member of OutServe-SLDN, an association of lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender military personnel focused on equality for active members and veterans. He watched the proceedings on C-Span and said the recent developments have been encouraging for those who back marriage equality.
“It’s exciting. Really, the biggest thing for me is the fact that it’s becoming an issue and (the justices) are willing to listen and take facts under advisement. It’s awesome to see that happen,” said Winkelman, who is stationed at Fort George G. Meade in Baltimore, Md. “I feel the ball started rolling a long time ago, and it’s going to happen eventually.”
The outcome of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, is especially important to Winkelman because it denies homosexual couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. Despite new benefits that were extended to gay military couples in February, gay service members are not eligible to receive up to $20,000 in allowances that straight military members get.
Winkelman pointed out DOMA also affects military perks such as housing and moving benefits, health insurance and employment assistance.
“I hear people argue that civil unions and domestic partnerships might not be marriage, but it’s good enough. But there are so many other issues other than ‘It’s not marriage, but it’s close,’” Winkelman said.
Kathy Cameron, a member of the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance, is looking to the Supreme Court to provide equality and a route to marriage.
Cameron’s son, Patrick, is gay, and she wants him to have the opportunity to marry his partner.
“It hurts me to think he can’t do what his siblings can do and marry the person he loves because he’s gay,” said Cameron. “It’s a basic inequality. It’s very hurtful to everyone. There are so many long-term relationships that really crave the validation to call each other husband and wife. I know couples who have been together for years and years, and they want all the rights and responsibilities that come with that commitment.”
Patterson, a policy intern at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, has sensed the shift in society’s attitude toward same-sex marriage, fueled by a generation of young adults.
At the rally, Darlene Nipper, deputy executive officer at NGLTF, cited a statistic that 81 percent of people under age 30 support same-sex marriage.
“If anything, that shows that the younger generations are going to be the change-makers, especially those who are becoming involved in the political process, whether that is as members of Congress or grassroots activists,” said Patterson. “It’s become inevitable. Everyone knows someone who is part of the LGBT movement. It’s time to give these second-class members full access to what society has to offer.”