The city of magnificent intention

Cassie Ippaso /Staff

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The deafening siren of my alarm pierced my eardrum until I reluctantly shuffled my arm in search for the source of sound. With only half an eye open, I deciphered the numbers that glowed but two feet away from me — 4:30 a.m. My stomach plummeted.

My roommate and I had haphazardly and half-heartedly convinced each other the night before to trek to the Supreme Court with the hopes we would somehow be able to gain the golden ticket that would grant us entry into the chambers in time for the nine justices to announce the case rulings of that day. Seeing Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the flesh was something I didn’t think I would be able to check off my D.C. list, and the opportunity was too brilliant to pass up for a few more hours of sleep. Sleep is for the dead, or so I’m told.

The Obergefell v. Hodges decision was yet to be made, and the court had two days left to announce the ruling — today, Friday, or Monday, June 29. Monday seemed like the obvious bet.

Upon our arrival, there was a muttering that cut the crisp morning air. It was a feeling of, well, excitement, I suppose. That excitement admittedly dwindled as the minutes turned into hours and then into a multitude of hours, all of which were spent slumped against a curbside.

We were counted to be numbers 105 and 106 in line — around 50 odd places too late by our guessing; 4:30 a.m. just was not early enough. Where else other than the Supreme Court of the United States is 4:30 a.m. not early enough? Yet, as many around us packed up their bags and made haste, we didn’t shift an inch from the same slumped positions against the concrete curvatures we had held hours before. I mean, we had already committed ourselves to sleep deprivation, so we might as well make a day of it.

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The sun steadily grew higher in the sky, and as the hands of my watch etched further around its face, crowds grew as packs of people from all beliefs and backgrounds began to congregate by the stone-marbled steps. Maybe, just maybe, today would be the day.

Washington D.C. seemed more like a stopping point than a destination on my whimsical and waggish life journey. But as someone who defines life as a series of moments formed by chance and probability, I should have known better than to make such assumptions. You make your own odds, and the rest is coincidence. Receiving one of the final tickets to proceed to the court chambers was a little bit of probability and a whole lot of chance.

Elation coursed through my veins as my roommate and I sprinted two steps at a time up to the Supreme Court, where we rushed through security and to the back of the bustling line that led into the chambers.

I closed my eyes and reminded myself to breathe. My hands were trembling. I caught the eyes of those around me, and they too could sense that ineffable feeling of something about to, well, happen.

Rows were seated, security procedures muttered and then finally the justices proceeded from the thick velvet curtains and into their lounging tall black leather chairs. Thomas leaned back and closed his eyes, dismayed by what he knew was to come. I’m certain that Scalia gave a grumble of dissatisfaction.

Chief Justice John Roberts cleared his throat and announced they would be giving the decision on case 576, Obergefell v. Hodges.

The room paused to catch their breath. Hands found hands, fists clenched, breathing ceased, eyes closed. Decades of living and dying and fighting had led up to this one moment, and as Kennedy ushered the words of history being made, I was there during that remember-where-you-were-when-it-happened kind of moment.

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

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The room was struck with an overflow of emotion. Tears streamed down almost everyone’s faces as they realized the significance of what they had just witnessed.

As we were led out onto the court steps, we were greeted by hundreds of cheers. Love had unremittingly and unequivocally won, and by God was the LGBTQ community going to celebrate.

The assembling of a crowd isn’t exactly unfamiliar to those stone marbled steps. The same has ritually been done before for decision such as Brown v. Board of Education, Griswold v. Connecticut, Roe v. Wade, Gideon v. Wainwright, Lawrence v. Texas, to name only a handful. The rabble was celebrating the making of history, in a place where so much history had come before it. What’s past is prologue.

The prologue to this story is decades, if not centuries deep. Plagued by bigotry and ignorance, the road to equality is one which is drawn out and meandering, and the promised land is still somewhat elusive — but, oh boy, have too many trudged their way through bushes and brambles to temporarily rest in a realm of sunshine.

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It is for this reason that Washington D.C. has been described by Dickens as the “City of Magnificent Intentions.” Undoubtedly, there is a clear dissonance between the city’s idealistic aspirations and its muddy realities. But it is the relentlessly pure intentions that blossom the city into the realms of magnificence. The profound ruling given on Friday, June 26, 2015 was made with such magnificent intentions, bridging the country’s past to its present and hopefully to its future. Obergefell v. Hodges adds a small step to the rising staircase leading to equality.

“Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstance, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times,” said Thomas Jefferson in 1816. Almost 200 years later, we see these words come alive. What’s past is prologue.


Contact Cassie Ippaso at [email protected].