Yesterday, the right to marry the one you love got its day in court. Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court of the United States on a civil right which would have seemed unthinkable and impossible only a few decades ago.
Most observers of the Supreme Court believe that the ruling on the right to marry will be a favorable one for the gay community, a testament to decades of work by a host of LGBT activists and everyday gay and lesbian people. But the fact remains, LGBT people will still not be equal citizens under the law. There is so much work to be done to make full equality a reality.
I grew up in the 1950s, when the possibility of LGBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) people living their lives openly and proudly seemed remote indeed, and the notion of two people of the same sex getting legally married was so far from being possible as to be unimaginable.
By the early ‘90s, there was a huge disagreement within the gay community about whether or not it was prudent to begin arguing for the right to marry. The general consensus was that to fight for the right to marry was to flirt with disaster, with many predicting that the backlash to such a movement would set back the gay community for years and might create such a reaction as to endanger the few gains that had been made on our behalf.
But a few, led by Freedom to Marry’s Executive Director, Evan Wolfson, argued that the failure to achieve the right to legally marry the one you love would by definition relegate us to second class citizenship. Over time, the LGBT community agreed with those who argued for the right to marry, and in a span of time so short as to be mindboggling, 61 percent of the public now agree.
There is, of course, an inherent danger here, both within and outside the gay community. It is not absurd to imagine that the public will believe this right to marry will end the push for equal rights among the gay community. “They got the right to marry, what else could they possibly want?!”
Even within the gay community, especially for those who are affluent and live and work in an accepting and affirming city/state, there is the danger that we will not remember those whose lives will still be precarious and even dangerous because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And so, I would like to make some suggestions about what gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people might do on the day after our legal (and constitutionally protected) right to marry is recognized by the Supreme Court:
1. Write to your state officials, pushing for anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people in your state.
If you had told me 15 years ago that we would have marriage equality before we had employment security, I would have thought you were crazy. But in fact, discrimination when seeking employment, securing shelter, and accessing the goods and services all people need to live and survive is allowed in 28 states based on sexual orientation and 31 states based on gender identity, without recourse in the courts.
Not only do anti-discrimination laws not exist, but we have also seen more than 100 anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures to make sure that discrimination against us is still legal. Until such laws are passed, and LGBT people have the right to redress for these discriminations, many will still live precarious and dangerous lives.
2. Push your congregation/denomination to reject the notion that religious organizations should be exempt from anti-discrimination laws.
In state after state, we have seen a concerted effort by conservative religious groups to pass legislation that would exempt religious organizations from complying with anti-discrimination laws, should they ever be enacted. This “right to discriminate” based on the notion of “religious liberty” is the new, darling cause of conservative religious people, from the Roman Catholic Church to conservative evangelicals.
The fact of the matter is that “religious liberty” is a value we all hold, and it is already sufficiently protected in the U.S. Constitution. The notion that religious people should be “protected” from having to treat people fairly and humanely is so ungodly (by any faith’s standards) as to be absurd. Urge your religious leaders to reject such notions and stand up for the rights of LGBT people.
3. Write members of Congress and call for a federal omnibus bill protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, and the public square.
Alas, some states will never act to give these protections to its LGBT citizens. Only a federal anti-discrimination bill will bring these safeguards for LGBT people to every community. Full citizenship and protection should not depend on one’s zip code.
4. Become a public and vocal ally of our transgender sisters and brothers.
By every measure, no matter how hard life is for gay and lesbian citizens, it is worse for those who are transgender. We, the gay and lesbian community, always add a “T” to our acronym, but in fact, we have been scant and spotty in our support for protections for the transgender community.
Fully 26 percent of transgender people report having been fired from a job simply because of their gender identity. It is time we put our time, energy, political clout, and money toward laws which will outlaw discrimination based on gender identity.
5. Write a check to an LGBT rights organization.
Much of the funding for LGBT work comes from a small subsection of our community: mostly white, affluent, gay men living in urban areas. They rarely experience job, public accommodation, and housing discrimination. Will they think our work is over, now that we have marriage equality? Will they stop funding the remaining work which will benefit those who live in less accepting, even hostile, environments?
If they do, we will be severely limited in the progress we might make on behalf of those in our community who do not live in an accepting, liberal bubble.
6. Get involved in other justice/liberation movements.
Surely the last few decades have taught us about the connections between our quest for justice and that of other oppressed minorities. There are LGBT people who are African American or impoverished or undocumented. When we support #BlackLivesMatter and poverty programs and immigration reform, we are helping “our own,” as well as countless others who face discrimination.
We have much in common with these other justice movements, and we need to show up for those who are facing discrimination similar to our own. Write a check, join a march, and find common cause with these movements which connect to our own.
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On the day after the Supreme Court affirms our right to marry, there will still be much to do. As for me, I will permit myself to joyously celebrate for one day, and then get back to work. Because until all of us — and I do mean all — are free, protected, and equal, America will be less than we claim and aspire to be.
The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.