On Friday, in a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that all 50 states must recognize and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, citing the 14th Amendment. Before the vote, there were 13 states in which same-sex marriage was illegal. For many LGBTQ individuals, the ruling represents a major milestone in the road toward equality, and the culmination of years of advocacy and activism.
For others, marriage equality is barely the tip of the iceberg. Currently, there are 32 states where it is legal for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ employees – 32 states where American citizens can be fired for their sexual orientation. In two-thirds of the country, there are LGBTQ employees who must remain closeted at work. Sure, now those same employees can get legally married to a same-sex partner. But can they bring a photo of their spouse to put on their desk at work? Can they invite any co-workers to the wedding? Can they put their spouse on their company health insurance? Not without fear of losing their employment with no legal retribution or protection available. Texas is one of many states currently offering no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.
Additionally, 40 percent of homeless youth are still LGBTQ, and LGBTQ individuals of all ages are at a much higher risk of facing housing discrimination. Despite initiatives like the It Gets Better project, suicide is still the second leading cause of death for LGBTQ youth and the stakes are even higher for transgender youth despite increased cultural visibility of transgender individuals in the media.
Earlier in the week, activist Jennicet Gutierrez interrupted a speech by President Obama at the White House’s PRIDE reception to raise the issue of the deportation and abuse of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants. Gutierrez was speaking on behalf of 75 transgender individuals currently being detained and harassed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Often, these immigrants have fled countries openly hostile to LGBTQ individuals, only to continue to be subject to violent and discriminatory practices once on U.S. soil. Trans women are often assigned to detention centers filled with men, where they are misgendered, assaulted and raped. Despite how Orange is the New Black portrays Sophia’s story, trans women are also more likely to be housed in men’s prisons, where they are likewise subject to violence, assault and sexual abuse in high numbers.
When Gutierrez interrupted the president, she was booed by the crowd, and many have pointed out the rift in the LGBTQ community that action represented. How many of those who attempted to silence Gutierrez are celebrating the Supreme Court verdict today? Or marching in PRIDE parades this weekend? In a lot of ways, marriage equality disproportionately benefits white, middle class, cisgender gay and lesbian Americans. After the Supreme Court decision Obama even sent out a tweet in which he noted that “gay and lesbian couples” now have the right to marry, erasing all other identities in the LGBTQIA+ community. What about bisexual individuals who want to marry a same-sex partner? What about asexual individuals who do not engage in the types of sexual relationships which lead to marriage? What about polyamorous individuals who want to marry more than one partner? What about single individuals of all sexual orientations who do not have a romantic or sexual partner to marry?
Many queer and feminist activists recognize the institution of marriage as a coercive and racist means of regulating and rewarding certain kinds of sexuality, certain relationships and certain forms of family construction over others. The institution of marriage has a long history tied to slavery, colonialism and oppression. Some activists have long questioned the decision to broaden the definition of marriage, rather than dismantling the institution entirely and allowing the legal benefits currently tied to marriage to be freely available to all citizens.
The slogan “Love Wins” came out in response to the Supreme Court decision. But whose love? And what kind? In some ways, marriage equality has only solidified our cultural ideal of romantic love as the highest and most important form of love. But romantic love is not the only kind of love, and the love we feel for our closest friends is no less valuable or worthy of celebration than the love between spouses. Moreover, queer people of color, trans men and women, and working class LGBTQ individuals are still disproportionately at risk of losing their homes, their jobs and their lives on a daily basis in our country. In the same week that marriage equality was achieved, the lives and rights of transgender women of color were ignored by the president himself. Did love win when Obama had Gutierrez escorted out of the room and refused to hear her pleas?
Our culture celebrates LGBTQ individuals when they conform most closely to the ideals of mainstream culture. Trans women who are celebrities like Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner are lauded, while poor trans women of color like Gutierrez are silenced, ignored and pushed out of sight.
Members of LGBTQ rights organization GetEQUAL hosted a protest outside the Supreme Court building on Friday, holding up a banner which read “Liberation Can’t Wait.” Until all LGBTQIA+ individuals are able to live lives free from violence, harrassment, assault, police brutality, detention and deportation, racism, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and lack of access to healthcare, the fight is far from over. So celebrate marriage equality if you must, but never forget that equality is not the same as liberation.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 6/28/2015.