The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of states banning same-sex marriage any day now, and the landmark decision will undoubtedly trigger widespread celebration and everyone on Facebook changing their profile pic to some symbol of "equality." As a queer person, I have an unpopular but not altogether unheard-of opinion on the matter: I'm against gay marriage.
OK, maybe "against" is a strong word, but saying it that way serves as a fiery conversation starter. Of course, I'm supportive of every marginalized person living in the United States having the exact same rights and privileges as a straight, white, able-bodied cisgender male — the paragon of rights and privilege in our society. If a same-sex couple wants to contractually declare their relationship and file it on public record for the various benefits the US government bestows upon married couples, then they should be able to do so.
My problem — and I'd wager to say the problem — is with how and why legalizing same-sex marriage has been arbitrarily thrust forward as the cornerstone of the "LGBT rights movement," when there are so many other needs, namely protections regarding the right to basic human safety, that still evade the queer community. Supporters of gay marriage are prioritizing the right to wed when, thanks to these handy equality maps from the Movement Advancement Project, we know that:
- only 19 states and Washington, DC have laws in place guarding against employment and housing discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
- only 17 states + DC have non-discrimination laws in place that protect so-called "public accommodation" rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — meaning that they "protect LGBT people from being unfairly refused service or entry to, or from facing discrimination in, places accessible to the public...including retail stores, restaurants, parks, hotels, doctors’ offices, and banks."
- only 35 states + DC have laws in place that give same-sex couples "equal or substantially equivalent standing to other family members" when it comes to medical decision-making.
- only 15 states + DC cover sexual orientation and gender identity in their hate crime laws.
- only seven states restrict discrimination on becoming foster/adoptive parents based on LGBT status.
The right to same-sex marriage has taken precedence over the right to everything from employment and housing options for the LGBTQ+ community to literally existing in the public space without being murdered. How did this happen?
Well, pretty much the same way everything else in America happens. When the rights of a marginalized community come to the forefront of the national consciousness, they get there because they've been bolstered by people in power. The most powerful members of a marginalized community tend to be the ones with the least intersectional identities, thereby making them more palatable for mainstream consumption. In the case of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, this means white cis gay men hold all the power, and the causes they choose to take up become the causes that get mainstream attention.
And we need look no further than the largest LGBT advocacy group and lobbying organization in the country to see a stark example of this problem. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has long been criticized within the queer community for leaving behind the trans population, women, and queer people of color in their myopic crusade for marriage equality. Last week, an internal report of the HRC conducted by outside consultants confirmed that staffers found the working environment to be "a white men's club."
"Leadership culture is experienced as homogenous — gay, white, male," the report exclusively obtained by Buzzfeed states. "Exclusion was broad-based and hit all identity groups within HRC. A judgmental working environment, particularly concerning women and feminine-identified individuals, was highlighted in survey responses."
Female staffers complained of sexism at the hands of gay male staffers; more than half of multiracial and Latino employees complained of unfair race-based treatment; 83 percent of genderqueer staffers felt they received unfair treatment based on their gender identity; and trans* staffers expressed a fear of coming out based on the HR department's notoriously poor handling of transitions, name changes, and pronoun changes. If these things are true about the most powerful LGBT rights organization in America, then it's no surprise that their primary cause may not be representative of the most pressing needs of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
If privilege is a freshly baked pie of access, and every white cis straight man gets a whole pie, then a white cis gay man still gets much more pie than, say, a trans woman of color. This whole "most things white cis straight guys can do, white cis gay guys can also do" idea has one notable exception — getting married. Is it any coincidence then, that gay marriage has become the face of the mainstream LGBT rights movement?
And here's the other thing about marriage equality — marriage as an institution isn't exactly on the progressive millennial radar. More and more, we see forward-thinking millennials (at their tamest) fighting the Wedding Industrial Complex, and (at their most radical) recognizing government-subsidized monogamy as a bullshit construct borne of a vested patriarchal interest in subjugating women. Why should all the rights and benefits of legal marriage only be set aside for monogamous romantic couples? Aside from LGBTQ+ rights, what about the rights of people in poly partnerships, or those who have found non-romantic companionship, or those who have chosen their families in countless other ways?
We are statistically a queerer, more gender fluid, and less monogamous generation than any before ours. Jamming queer relationships into heteronormative, patriarchal molds is not equality, and it's not helping the most disenfranchised, endangered members of our community live safer lives.
Plus, the be-all-end-all way in which the mainstream LGBT rights movement frames marriage equality gives straight allies the mistaken impression that federally recognized same-sex marriage = all the work of equality being done forever, when, as outlined above, it doesn't really address many issues that could make a significant impact on the quality of a queer person's life. If the SCOTUS decision comes down outlawing bans on same-sex marriage at the state level, then I sort of dread the inevitable Facebook feed full of self-congratulatory "we did it!" posts from the same straight friends who still struggle with constantly misgendering my trans* friends.
So maybe, instead of jumping on the bandwagon in the case of good news, and changing your profile picture or posting the celebratory meme-du-jour or penning a tearful post about how proud you are of this great nation and its strides toward equality, you might stop and think about how useful the right to marry really is to the least powerful members of the LGBTQ+ community. Maybe instead, you can use your feed to lend visibility to the great advocacy work of a trans teen, or the wrongful conviction of a queer woman of color, or Michigan's newly legalized discrimination against LGBT adoptions. If the nation makes a stride in recognizing same-sex marriage, then above all, it's still a stride that's too little, too late. To celebrate it, as an ally, is to serve yourself a baking sheet full of proverbial cookies when there is so, so much more work to be done on behalf of the queer community. Your job as an ally is to keep making space, to keep using your privilege to amplify marginalized voices. And your work never stops.