Fight Isn’t Over for Gay Marriage

By Danny Zhang

Over the last few months, thanks to the Supreme Court declining to take up the marriage equality petitions before it in October, a tidal wave of judicial decisions in favor of marriage equality has swept across the nation’s courts, expanding the number of states where same-sex marriage is legal to 37.

More than 70 percent of Americans now live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. Poll after poll conducted in recent months continue to show a solid majority of Americans, including an overwhelming 80 percent of those under 30, in support of marriage equality.

This torrid pace of progress, combined with a likely Supreme Court ruling establishing a national constitutional right to same-sex marriage this June, has led some people to declare victory in the civil rights movement of our generation.

It is true that the rapidly evolving attitude around marriage equality over the last two decades is without precedent in the history of American society.

Twenty years ago, just a quarter of Americans supported the legalization of same-sex marriage and a Democratic president signed into law, with wide bipartisan support from Congress, a bill that pre-emptively prohibited federal benefits from being conferred upon same-sex married couples. Today, support for marriage equality has more than doubled and that law, better known as DOMA, has been declared unconstitutional.

By every measure, the LGBT community has won the battle for marriage equality. But even as we celebrate all this progress, I am wary of what will happen after this June, after marriage equality becomes the law of the land, after the dust has settled on all the exciting legal battles and after the big name lawyers have moved on to the next big case.

Yes, it is a wonderful thing and a giant step forward that every American will be able to join in the sacred union with whomever they love and receive the benefits and bear the burdens of that contract. But just as the movement for equality between the races lags on decades after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the movement for LGBT equality is about so much more than winning the legal fight on same-sex marriage.

It is about protecting LGBT teens from discrimination and bullying in their schools and their homes. Today, LGBT youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide and as much as 40 percent of homeless youths identity as LGBT. Marriage means little to you if you’ve just been kicked out of your house or are harassed by your peers for being different.

It is about protecting LGBT workers from discrimination at their workplace. Today, employers can fire workers based on their sexual orientation in 29 states and based on their gender identity in 35. Marriage means little to you if you’re struggling to feed yourself because your homophobic boss just gave you a pink slip.

It is about protecting the right of a loved one to visit their same-sex partner in the hospital when he or she is sick, for same-sex couples to jointly adopt children and start a normal family together and for crimes committed against someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity to be prosecuted exactly as they are: hate crimes. It is about addressing a new HIV crisis in the LGBT community, one that has caused the infection rate among young gay and bisexual men to rise 22 percent between 2008 and 2010 and disproportionately affects African-Americans and Latinos.

Without all these civil protections from discrimination and more concentrated efforts to alleviate the real, substantive plight of LGBT life in America, life as an LGBT individual will still lack the full dignity it deserves, for the right to marry is nothing but an empty shell if that is where progress stops.

Marriage equality has galvanized the nation because it is a straightforward issue and has a clear finish line. That finish line is now in sight but let’s not delude ourselves in the excitement of the moment and declare the battle over. Breaking down all these remaining legal and social barriers will require just as much energy, patience, and willpower as has been put into the battle for marriage equality, if not more.

As the great Winston Churchill once said: “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”