“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
It’s one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most profound and celebrated quotes (although it’s been around since previous speakers), and when it comes to our community’s most often-cited political goals it seems impossible to argue against. If anyone doubts that in coming decades — a generation at most — same-sex couples will be able to marry in every state, or that nationwide workplace discrimination protections for LGBT people will be a reality, you have an uncommon perspective that I’d love to hear.
But there are also many things that put the famous quote to the test, because there are certainly examples in history when societies move against the tide of justice. All the darkest, most oppressive times in human history came after times that weren’t as bad. That’s why the arc is long, but sometimes it’s so long that many generations come and go without seeing a better time. If we want to see the future during our own lives, we can’t, and don’t, sit back and watch as if all good things happen on their own.
Nor does it seem as though we’re ever truly finished working. The moral universe may bend towards justice, but never quite arrives at justice. The ratification of the U.S. Constitution did not arrive at justice, the Emancipation Proclamation did not arrive at justice, the Nineteenth Amendment (giving women the right to vote) did not arrive at justice, nor did the Civil Rights Act, or even the Colorado Civil Union Act for that matter. Those were hard-fought steps toward justice, but the forces that made them necessary — disenfranchisement, racism, sexism, heterocentrism — continued, and work for justice continued too. In fact, the people and institutions who most often glorify the Civil Rights Act or Civil Union Act as the “end” of inequality are typically those who trace back to the ones fighting against them.
So it seems naïve to think marriage equality or any other law or policy we currently have our sights on will be the end of the LGBT and allied community’s work. I think we’ll still have many needs and concerns we can only solve together as a community, still have to reflect on our own level of acceptance for ourselves and each other, and still have some challenges coming from the wider world that are unique to LGBT people.
This is a turn that I’m guessing many of you were not expecting when you first caught a glimpse of this issue’s cover. True, it could have been a bright-eyed story about the many great things to come — and we’ll certainly be celebrating those over the next few years. But I think we all have a picture in our minds of what those victories entail, and I’m far more curious about what we don’t already know. So I’ll propose the question to you now: what comes after “equality?”