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When it comes to politics and governance, I’m generally overstocked on cynicism and lacking in sentimentality, but I still found myself shedding a few tears of joy when I saw the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of marriage equality.
Despite the fact that the march towards equality can feel painfully slow, we know just how quickly the marriage victory came — far faster than almost anyone, gay or straight, friend or foe, would have predicted. In fact, it’s worth remembering just how ludicrous the idea of legal gay marriage once seemed, both as a goal and an institution. Marriage proponents were treated as comic relief; many gays and lesbians asked, “Why on earth would we want to get married?”
And yet here we are, in a world lit up in rainbow colors. It’s a nice place to be.
We got here through the hard work of so many people, who have been highlighted and profiled and interviewed in these pages and others over the past decade. But just as important as the individuals who guided this campaign has been our own grassroots — the thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who said, “This is why we want to get married. This is why we want to be full and equal members of our society.”
Marriage equality wasn’t a trickle-down victory. Our relationships provided the foundation for the movement. Every commitment ceremony, every domestic partnership, every early marriage demonstrated to family, friends and neighbors that our lives are much the same as theirs, that we are equal in our desire for love and stability. I’ve seen the change in my own family — what once was unthinkable became familiar and accepted, even in the rural American heartland that anti-gay politicians assume to be their bedrock. It wasn’t pundits on television or amicus briefs that changed their minds, it was the simple experience of actual gay people being open about their lives.
That’s why, for me, marriage is part of the continuum of activism of the ’80s and ’90s, when the AIDS epidemic began forcing America to deal with homosexuality as something more than parades in San Francisco and New York. In the face of government indifference, bureaucratic hostility, and sheer hatred, LGBT people became the advocates that no one in power would be. I don’t share the apocalyptic worldview or bottomless anger of Larry Kramer, but we all owe him a debt for using that anger to help save our community. And, frankly, we owe a debt to all the people who were willing to storm the FDA, chain themselves in government buildings and heckle the president of the free world. While too many were lost to AIDS, there are others who are still with us — I’d consider this a good time to celebrate “Hug an ACT UP Alumnus Day.”
Just as ACT UP and Queer Nation built on the history of Mattachine and Stonewall, the movement for marriage built on what preceded it. AIDS showed the country what happened to people considered less than human: patients left to die alone by fearful hospitals, surviving partners stripped of their homes by bigoted family. These issues intersected with marriage, the same way that marriage would intersect with immigration rights, visitation rights, and women’s equality.
So marriage is part of a continuum that did not end last Friday at the Supreme Court. As has been noted, there are states where you can get married and then get fired for it, because there are no workplace protections for LGBT employees. Homophobic families in most states can still subject their children to crackpot gay “conversion” therapies. Transgender men and women still face astounding discrimination, in courts, hospitals and hometowns.
We should all celebrate enthusiastically now that we’ve achieved a fundamental milestone of the movement. I would even encourage some extended basking in those rainbow lights. But don’t forget we have a ways to go in making the world an even nicer place to be.
Sean Bugg is the former editor and co-publisher of Metro Weekly.
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