Marriage equality gearing up for win, but war must go on
Marriage equality is on its final victory lap. New wins are arriving faster than most Americans are bothering to keep track of them, and the Supreme Court may finally take a stand on the issue once and for all.
It’s been an eventful year and a half since the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 were repealed in June 2013. Same-sex couples have gained the freedom to marry in 23 states, adding to an incredible total of 36 states, as reported by GLAAD. Bans have been declared unconstitutional in an additional 10 states, pending appeal. The last four strongholds against marriage equality — Georgia, Louisiana, Nebraska, and North Dakota — are predictably located in rural America. However, it seems only a matter of time before they cave to the pressure of history, as Alabama did only this Friday.
Through all of these developments, the Supreme Court has maintained a lackadaisical, hands-off attitude. It set up the game of dominoes by repealing DOMA, but up until now the court has seemed content to simply let same-marriage bans become obsolete one state at a time. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit changed the Supreme Court’s thinking. The 6th Circuit broke the precedent set by all prior circuits by upholding same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. As such, on Jan. 16 the Supreme Court announced their intention to take on representative cases from these states, with a verdict expected in June.
The Supreme Court will settle their stance on two questions. The first is whether same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states, and the second is whether all 50 states have the obligation to recognize same-sex marriages licenses issued legally out-of-state. At this point, all signs point toward a positive on both questions. An anti-marriage equality ruling would be a logistical nightmare for the government, annulling thousands of formerly recognized marriages and exponentially complicating tax law, as discussed in Slate magazine.
Plus, a negative ruling would be disastrous for public opinion. The majority of Americans are in favor of nationwide marriage equality, and 70 percent of the population is currently experiencing it, according to The Huffington Post. In plenty of ways, we’re already living in a post-marriage discrimination world. If the Supreme Court were to avoid striking the final blow, based on the precedent America has been building for years, it would be more than a head-scratcher; it’d be abject foolishness.
Now, let’s just say that we win. June comes, and the United States becomes the 19th nation where same-sex couples can freely marry. What happens then? As GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis warns: “Even as we look forward to the Supreme Court’s decision, we must also remember that marriage equality in America is a benchmark, not a finish line.”
America likes its progress narratives. We like a good rags-to-riches tale of overcoming adversity and arriving at some concrete point of success. The fight for marriage equality — state by state, culminating in that final Supreme Court smackdown — is a perfect example of the satisfying progress narrative. Unfortunately, the progress narrative is a myth. Society isn’t pushing forward to any set point; history is set in its path of one step forward, two steps back, a few more steps sideways, and probably even a cha-cha real smooth for good measure.
Many legal and social changes are visible and worthwhile, and many go on to improve the lives of thousands or millions in very real ways. But racism didn’t go away with abolition and it wasn’t obliterated by the Civil Rights Act. Neither did sexism vanish with the 19th Amendment or Roe v. Wade. Marriage equality will not end homophobia, and anyone who claims otherwise was probably never much of an ally in the first place.
We must start arming ourselves against the opponents who are coming: those who will use marriage equality to silence activists for all remaining LGBTQ concerns. Freedom to marry pales a little in comparison to the freedom many queer people still lack to openly live their lives without fear of discrimination, prejudice, and violence.
As we celebrate this huge victory, we must avoid falling into the progress narrative’s trap. It will be better by far to focus on those individuals who are still in need of change, and who will continue to be for the foreseeable future.