I want to tell you about my friend Joe. It was the winter of 2007, and a lot of us who had just come back from the war were receiving letters from the Pentagon, calling us “involuntarily” back to service in our volunteer military. The Iraq Surge was beginning, and the country needed more troops.
My friend Joe was honorably discharged after four years of service in the Marines, including two long tours in Iraq, and was on his way to Columbia for graduate school when he received that same notice. But he had to make just one phone call, and utter only two words, to get out of returning to war: “I’m gay.”
To do so made all the sense in the world. Joe came out of the closet when he got out of the Marine Corps, finally able to admit a fundamental truth about himself that he’d come to terms with during his final years in the service. Why not use that fact—not an excuse—to allow him to start graduate school as he intended? With two tours under his belt, he had surely done his time.
Joe thought long and hard about the decision—I know, because he called me and we talked about it a lot. I faced returning for another tour rather than starting graduate school as well, but I didn’t have a life I would have to keep hidden in order to put on my uniform again.
So what did my friend Joe do? He called the Marine Corps and he said he would go. When millions of Americans who had never served could have gone instead, Joe said he didn’t want anyone to serve in his place. He hid a fundamental part of who he is to do another tour in Afghanistan. His officer evaluation from the period states that he “is an example for others to emulate,” and his dedication to service has been an inspiration to me.
We’ve come a long way. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, and state laws preventing marriage equality are toppling like dominos. Today we mark 10 years of marriage equality in Massachusetts. We are lucky to live in a state that leads the nation, like it does on so many issues, in guaranteeing equal rights for all.
But we have more work to do. My friend Joe still can’t get married in 33 states, and businesses are still allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation. This is an issue whose time has come—marriage equality is the civil rights fight of our generation. Let’s get it done.