Why marriage isn’t the end of the fight for LGBTQ equality

Colors fly at a gay pride parade. (Photo by Tim Brown for the U.S. Department of State via Flickr.)
Colors fly at a gay pride parade. (Photo by Tim Brown for the U.S. Department of State via Flickr.)

On the Monday after PRIDE weekend, with the glitter finally removed from my hair and clothing, I let the reality of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage sink in. Coming down off a spell that was equal parts rainbow crosswalks and sunstroke, I began to wonder—what now?

In the days since the historic decision was made, my white friends and family have come to me with their jubilant questions:

“How do you feel?” “What does this change, for you?” “So, when are you getting married?”

The truth is, the ruling itself changed little for me personally. I live in a state that already approves same-sex marriage (thanks everyone!). But like many queers, I never put too much stock in the white picket fence dream that has historically included legal, heteronormative matrimony. An article in the New York Times last weekend echoed the sentiments of many when author Timothy Stewart-Winter wrote, “We were not, for obvious reasons, the marrying kind; that was part of what made us special.”

That’s not to say that I didn’t share in the joy of Jack Evans, 85 and George Harris, 82, the first gay couple to legally marry in Texas after being together for 50 years who may have thought this day would never come. I felt relieved for the future kids who might feel less shame about their sexuality. I felt excited for the people having children today—the future grandparents who will threaten to be old enough to have been alive during a time when ‘gay marriage was actually a thing.

And it’s not to say that in a trying and painful year for America, I shouldn’t be allowed to tether my feckless optimism to something.

The Friday of the ruling, it felt good to be gay, a word I rarely use to describe myself. Over PRIDE weekend, it felt even better to be queer, (a word I sometimes use, depending on the day). By Monday morning, it was important to remember who I—free to marry in the eyes of the law—still am not.

I am not a queer youth forced to leave my home for my own safety, trying to keep up with high school by day while bouncing from shelter to shelter at night, where I am still targeted for my orientation.

I am not an LGBTQ immigrant awaiting deportation in a detention center, with a 40 percent chance of my assault in custody going unreported.

I am not a person of color, a group who made up 73 percent of all anti-LGBT homicides in 2012.

These are the people for whom gay marriage doesn’t necessarily change much. For all of us, but especially for them, the fight for equality is far from over.

I don’t say any of this to encourage despair—we have enough of that already. The marriage equality movement has given a marginalized group the gift of power, recognition, and money. In 2013, the organization Freedom to Marry was the largest recipient of philanthropic dollars of any organization that works on LGBTQ issues. But what about freedom to control my body? Freedom to walk in the streets without fear for my safety? Freedom to sleep in my house? These are not among the questions I hear with the same frequency as ‘when are you getting married?’

Forty percent of homeless youth in America are queer. In King County, that number is even higher, and is on the rise as young people are rejected by their families for coming out as gays and lesbians, queer, trans, or questioning. Many have documented the rise in LGBTQ hate crimes on Capitol Hill as demographics change. Three assaults occurred during last week’s PRIDE weekend. Last March, Mayor Ed Murray proposed a 30-person taskforce to create recommendations for a safer environment for the LGBTQ community. There is no better time than on the coattails of gay marriage to create an LGBTQ homeless youth shelter in King County.

Some have pointed to states like Washington that started the domino-effect of sweeping approval that brought rulings on same-sex marriage from state to state until it landed in the Supreme Court. Now, we could be the state that builds on the visibility, momentum, and dollars built in recent years to achieve true justice for those who are still suffering for their multiple identities every day. For us to do that, the largely white movement that made marriage equality possible must continue to see the health and safety of LGBTQ people of color, immigrants, and youth as intertwined with its own goals.

Many in the community wonder if organizations like Freedom To Marry will close up shop, now that the right to marry has been secured. If we acknowledge the way that sexual identity also hinges on things like privilege, economic justice, and race, then we’ll know that “Freedom” is a much more useful tagline.

Last weekend, we achieved something great. I still bawl at weddings (and at bad movies about them). More people get to legally stand up and commit their love to someone in public, and that’s a beautiful thing. But LGBTQ people have a legacy and struggle that is too deep to end at marriage. So queers: if it suits you, walk down the aisle. We’ve always known how to throw great parties. Let’s not forget how well we can march.

Interested in learning more about what happens after marriage equality? A free community meeting at Town Hall tonight will celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling and to discuss the continuing work to achieve full LGBTQ equality. Tuesday July 7th, 1119 8th Avenue South, 6:30 PM.