DENVER — Hundreds gathered here Wednesday night to celebrate and harness the political power rising from the legalization of same-sex marriage in Colorado. People of all ages crammed before the columns of the 10th Circuit federal courthouse, where judges effectively struck the ban Tuesday.
“It feels amazing,” said Euell Santistevan Jr, holding a rainbow flag while “Can’t Buy Me Love,” blared in the background. “The best analogy I can think of is watching dominos fall when you’re a little kid. You can’t really describe how good this feels.”
Santistevan was flanked by Ellis McFadden and candidate for city council Tea Schook, both of whom have been agitating for greater LGBTQ rights for decades.
“It’s the latest step in like a sixty-year battle to be human beings,” said Schook.
“And to have something so good come from a non-decision!” added McFadden, referring to the US Supreme Court’s decision to let stand lower court rulings overturning same-sex marriage bans in many states.
But not in all states, just in 19, then 25, then 30, now perhaps a few more. These shifting figures, evidence of just how much momentum marriage equality has built, were passed like tokens between hand-holding couples, hugging friends, civil rights lawyers and leaders of faith.
“So Colorado gets it together with a little help from the Feds,” said philanthropist and activist Tim Gill, taking the podium on the stairs of the courthouse. “I don’t know about you, but I have whiplash.”
He founded the influential LGBTQ-rights Gill Foundation in the wake of Amendemnt 2, passed in 1992, which legalized descrimination against gay residents of the state. He praised those before him for their tireless work in what he called a leaderless movement, but added that the work of winning full equality was far from over.
“Ted Cruz, our great friend, just announced he wants to amend the US Constitution so states can roll back your right to marry the person you love,” he said to resounding boos.
He then tied that Republican member of congress to a few others who are running for office in Colorado.
“Two Colorado candidates — Cory Gardner and Bob Beauprez — have long histories of opposing our freedom to marry,” said Gill. “They must not win.”
The evening of celebration turned political rally.
Leaders of the LGBTQ community spoke of savoring tonight but focused too on returning to ongoing issues of inequality, such as youth bullying and transphobia. The cheering was mighty as top-of-the-ticket candidates in this year’s election took their turns speaking.
“I couldn’t be prouder to introduce a man who sees the possibilities and works to make them realities, a man we should all work our butts off to get elected, Governor John Hickenlooper,” said Gill.
“This is a moment of truth that love does conquer all, love and the incredible perseverance of people like Tim Gill and all of you here,” said Hickenlooper, before launching into the history of his support for marriage equality.
“Hick! Hick! Hick!” the crowd yelled as he finished speaking and walked away from the mic. Then chant morphed into “Vote! Vote! Vote!” Leaders reminded the crowd that the state’s universal all-mail ballots will begin arriving at homes next week. They urged supporters to carry the momentum from the court rulings forward.
The LGBTQ community also celebrated its diversity and the diversity of its allies. Speakers from the NAACP to faith leaders in various denominations exalted the power of love to change hearts and minds.
“Love wins,” they said.
Love may be win for Democrats as well. More than two-thirds of Colorado voters support same-sex marriage and it has moved from a Republican to a Democratic wedge issue in less than a decade.
As dusk gathered, camera lights flicked on towards the south side of the square. Sen. Mark Udall shook hands all the way to the podium.
“This is a big mountain we’ve just climbed,” said Udall. “The wonderful thing about climbing a big mountain is you can see all the mountains you have left to climb,” he pin-pointed rights for transpeople, social security and veterans benefits.
“By the way I’m in the middle of an election, I hope I can count on your vote,” Udall said, before pivoting to his role in the repeal of the anti-gay military policy Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, drawing massive cheers.
Wendy Howell, the director of Why Marriage Matters Colorado, wrapped the event, noting she was happy to say that part of her job is now over. But with the election upcoming, Howell encouraged those present to walk directly from the rally to a phone bank to make sure members of the LGBTQ community vote this cycle.
“People fought, bled and died for our right to vote,” said Howell. “A longtime gay activist told me the story of his partner, who was dying of AIDS, unable to walk and said, ‘No, I’m not going to miss the election, you’ll have to carry me to the polls.’ If that man has the wherewithal and strength to do that, I think all of us can make sure we vote and makes sure our brothers, sisters allies, do the same.”
[ Sen. Mark Udall, up for re-election this cycle, poses with Anna and Fran Simon, recently married, and 7-year old son, Jeremy. Photo by Tessa Cheek ]