This summer will mark two years since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case, granting access to marriage and its seemingly countless benefits and responsibilities to gay and lesbian couples in the United States.
The Court, in ruling, said, “[Gay and lesbian individuals,’ as well as the party’s] hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” It is difficult to overstate just how crucial marriage was to securing fundamental human dignities and civil rights for our community. But, it wasn’t the only issue our community needed to organize around, and now that the letter of the Constitution has been spelled out in marriage, we cannot forget that our struggle is far from over.
To start, we haven’t necessarily guaranteed equal access to marriage for every couple. There are gay couples living in 99.9 percent of all counties in America according to a 2011 story from The Advocate, yet in small communities and in neighborhoods around our country, gay couples may sometimes feel the discrimination and harassment institutionalized in their county marriage licensing office or in local businesses.
Though Jeff Sessions has not given an indication that he will be anything other than a dangerous, destabilizing attorney general, we cannot remove ourselves from conversations with him and this Justice Department. We should work with and pressure him to fully fund the Office of Civil Rights and empower its attorneys with the support and resources needed to enforce newly recognized rights for gay couples, including marriage. If we don’t do that, what does it matter what rights we have on paper?
We also need a robust omnibus package that protects queer people from discrimination in employment and the workplace, in all legal proceedings, in education and housing, and in health care.
Executive orders President Obama crafted around protecting our community from discrimination were beneficial, but we’ve already seen the propensity of Donald Trump and his White House to break the law, nonetheless disregard executive actions and agency policy changes that weren’t enshrined in law.
This sort of policy prescriptive is exactly what conservatives would want, because it takes government out of the business of managing couples’ bedrooms while also opening significant consumer markets to new demographics in a completely autonomous economic occurrence and promulgating a robust and still far justice system. Beyond conservatives, and for the people these protections would shield, it’s not about ideology or being politically correct. It’s about making sure we all have the stability to plan for life.
For all the rights we are fighting for, we still have many more social liberties than queer people in countries like Uganda or Russia. In fact, Russia enforces harshly regressive measures that punish fellow citizens for everything from soliciting or distributing gay “paraphernalia” to being an active straight ally.
If we don’t use our soft power to consistently help countries make substantive progress on issues affecting the queer community, it doesn’t really matter that Donald Trump made the hollow gesture of keeping on a deputy in the State Department to work on those issues. We should organize our communities to advocate for legislative initiatives and consumer brands that firmly oppose homophobic or transphobic governments and government policies. We should write and call our Senators and Congressperson, engage with Donald Trump, and lobby the State Department to enact meaningful policies that do as much as legally possibly to protect marginalized communities within sovereign nations.
If we’re going to have the biggest consumer market in the world, we should at least be willing to use it for good.
These are just some of the issues we are facing as a community that still need to be dealt with. From training police departments and public correctional facilities on trans-identified people and how to treat them with dignity and respect to working with communities of color to address the remnants and still-existent strains of a brutal anti-LGBT sentiment that has contributed to everything from higher HIV infection rates to higher homelessness rates, there are a number of issues within our own community that desperately need our attention.
If we care about our lives enough to want the dignity of marriage, we ought to care about them enough to want the dignity of equality and respect in every aspect of our lives.