In a 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy this morning, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that same-sex couples fundamentally have equal protections under the Constitution. Along with the right to marry, this decision affords same-sex couples many state and federal benefits, like hospital access, medical-decision making authority, benefits in taxation, and more. But a marriage certificate is not a shield from discrimination, and for many, this celebration is bittersweet.
I come from North Carolina, one of 29 states where I can legally marry my partner, and that night be legally denied a hotel room for our honeymoon. I can legally obtain a marriage certificate, and I can be legally fired from my job should I decide to place a picture of our wedding ceremony on my desk, simply because of my sexual orientation. In 50 states same-sex couples can legally marry. They can also legally be fired from their jobs, evicted from their apartments, denied credit, refused hotel rooms, and their child can be discriminated against in education. 29 states lack explicit protections for LGB individuals, and 32 states lack explicit protections against discrimination based on gender identity.
Marriage equality is often presented as the pivotal point of progress for the LGBTQIA community, and many consider the quest for marriage equality one of the most successful campaigns for civil rights in the United States. Today same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in all 50 states. I think this is wonderful, and I myself have been waiting for this day for a very long time. I also, however, believe that the right to marry is probably one of the most limited forms of legislative progress. Limited, in that it offers very little without additional legislation, and should be a by-product of non-discrimination protections. Marriage, more often than not, affords rights to those already most privileged in our community. As a result, LGBT individuals with the most power and influence (a result of privilege) often prioritize marriage and neglect the most pressing concerns of our community. It is very clear that having the freedom to marry is simply not enough. It’s time that we move beyond marriage.
We must fight for progress that extends legal protections to all LGBTQIA people, married or not. However, legal protections do not ensure the right to live honest and open lives free of fear, hatred, and bigotry. Laws do not change the hearts and minds of people.
The fight for marriage equality has failed those most vulnerable in our community.
LGBT individuals constitute 40% of all homeless youth. Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face even greater challenges, and are often turned away from shelters, some of which even have signs denying them entrance. Almost 90% of LGBTQ homicide victims in 2013 were people of color, 72% were transgender women, and 67% were trans women of color. In 2014, twelve out of the fourteen trans women of color murdered in the United States were black, and 7 trans women of color were murdered in the first 7 weeks of 2015. The average life expectancy for a black transgender woman is 35 years.
While fighting homophobia and transphobia, we must make our efforts intersectional, and acknowledge the interlocking systems of oppression many LGBTQIA people face, making every effort to combat them all. It is our duty to address the needs of all of our people, and most importantly, to make sure that no one gets left behind.
We ask our allies (and rightfully so) to use their privilege and to stand up for what is right for our community.
I encourage each of us to do the same.