For anyone in the LGBT community, the journey toward marriage equality has been filled with some highs, but mostly lows. One state would pass its support of same-sex marriage, and then another would take those rights away. The angry arguments on TV interpreting religious beliefs were always disappointing and confusing for a community that was only looking to make a commitment in the eyes of the law. It was an emotional tug of war that would seemingly never end.
On Friday morning, it finally did.
By overturning the Sixth Circuit's ruling on Obergefell vs. Hodges, the Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans and, at long last, brought marriage equality to all 50 states. The cynical part of me was filled with worry in the days leading up to the ruling, but as soon as I read the text messages of joy that kept pouring in this morning, I was overcome with emotion.
Immediately my thoughts went back to 1995, when I was walking out of the hospital just moments after my partner, Sam, died in a San Diego emergency room. Being in the closet had made our world more difficult than you can imagine, and I could not help but wonder how different the world is now than it was then.
Today's ruling is important to me personally, but I also know it will have a very important impact on this generation of Major and Minor Leaguers. I am so proud of MLB for its unwavering support of our message of inclusion. The San Francisco Giants and the Tampa Bay Rays, in particular, deserve mention, as both organizations signed an amicus brief in this case, showing support for their communities and employees, and making an inclusive statement that was loud and clear.
The progress that our sport is making is already apparent: On Thursday night, Sean Conroy of the independent Sonoma Stompers became the first openly gay player to pitch professionally. He threw a shutout, but perhaps my favorite part of his performance is that he just played. There was no fanfare, no "look-at-me" gestures, just a ballplayer being his best self on the mound.
I struggled with my own self-acceptance for 32 years, and it's powerful to see an openly gay man on the mound of a professional game. That said, I understand all too well the difficulties that some people have with change, and as we move closer to equality for all citizens, it is important that we remain grateful that we live in this country where we are allowed to voice our opinions in a civil and respectful way.
My journey away from baseball and now back has helped me heal from some terrible decisions I made when I was living in isolation. Those experiences have made me more determined than ever to communicate the message of inclusion, and create a connection with my brothers and sisters who work, play and come to watch our amazing sport.
At the end of the day, I want every fan to know they are welcome as they walk through the turnstiles. Today brought us all a little bit closer.
Billy Bean is the ambassador of inclusion for Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.