The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 is a massive breakthrough for gay rights but is marriage equality the quintessential component of the gay rights movement? Marriage equality is a seemingly new fight in the LGTBQ equality movement. Gay liberation began in the 60s with the Stonewall Inn Riots. Back then, the fight for gay rights consisted mainly of gay and lesbian individuals coming out and demonstrating their identity as gay Americans in the hopes that other Americans would recognize gay and lesbian people as part of society. Homosexuality was in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1973. Up until then, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and the last laws against sodomy were only overturned 10 years ago. LGTBQ rights have made great progress since the 60s but recent events have given the illusion that marriage equality is something all queer individuals strive for and that the fight for queer equality is over now that marriage equality has been won.
I am going to come out and say honestly that I have issues with the institution of marriage for personal, political and intellectual reasons. Do I want to acclimate to an institution that for so long oppressed and still oppresses women all over the world and has over time denied interracial and same sex couples the right to marry? I have come up against many people who don’t share my critical lens but I feel that it’s important to voice my opinion on the institution of marriage because I know that other people feel the same way I do.
Rachel Maddow, the host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, had this to say in regards towards same-sex marriage: “I feel that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships. And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture.” Just as slaves created their own ceremonies, gay people have been creating their own ways of recognizing their relationships without marriage since the beginning of time.
I fully support anyone who wants to get married and believe that it should be an option for everyone. However, I have a problem with it being at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement for a multitude of reasons.
As I was watching media coverage of the 2 rulings, all I saw was a sea of white with only a few individuals of color here and there. White, gay men are the leaders of most LGBTQ organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER). Even though all gay Americans have been treated as second-class citizens, gay Caucasian men don’t represent the queer community as a whole, instead they only represent a small amount of individuals who identify as LGBTQ. I am not denouncing what these organizations do but I have fundamental issues with who is representing us and what issues they are representing.
No doubt HRC has helped move queer rights forward but the organization is so adamant about marriage equality that they leave LGBTQ minorities such as youth, women and individuals who don’t want to get married in the dust. For many LGBTQ people, getting married is the last thing on their mind. They are concerned more about issues such as workplace protection, physical threat, emotional distress, homelessness and suicide.
There are many issues and populations in the queer community left to fight for, from queer youth to transgender protection laws. Homeless queer youth are the largest portion of homeless youth in the US. It is estimated that 20% of homeless people consist of LGBTQ identified youth, while their non-LGBTQ identified counterparts make up 10% of homeless youth. An LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts has more resources than homeless youth in Mississippi. Only 3 LGBTQ group homes exist in the US and these homes are vital in providing support for a person’s LGBTQ queer identity. Suicide is an issue that receives national attention and many schools are educating their students on bullying and suicide but the rates in the queer community are higher than non-queer identified peers. LGBTQ youth are one-half to 3 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and intention than their non-LGB identified counterparts.
Lastly, an important issue facing queer adults is workplace protection. In 29 states there is no law protecting them from being fired and in 39 states there is no protection for transgendered individuals. The reality of the LGBTQ community is not white and gay. Rather, the reality is intersectional with class, race, gender and demographic differences.
DOMA and Prop 8 will forever change the lives of queer adults and queer youth but it is important to remember marriage is only one piece of the whole pie that is still left to fight for.