This week’s cover story by Deputy Editor Dyana Bagby does just that. Through interviews with a diverse group of local activists, we list five issues that our community needs to work on right now: ending anti-LGBT employment discrimination, renewing the fight against HIV, embracing our seniors and youth, acknowledging and erasing prejudices within our own community, and educating ourselves to be true allies to other disenfranchised people. And there are many more.
It’s true that these issues can be impacted by the marriage fight — some directly, and all indirectly through the respect that would come by having our love given the same legal rights as heterosexuals. Yet it is just as true that marriage rights alone won’t solve any of them.
Having our marriages legally recognized could give same-sex couples who are discriminated against when their employers learn about their relationship the ability to use laws and policies banning bias based on marital status. But it won’t help single LGBT people or those who can’t prove such a direct connection.
Being able to legally marry could give some people with HIV access to health insurance through their spouses’ employers. But it also won’t help single LGBT people, or erase the stigma faced by people with HIV or the myriad social and emotional factors that lead to new infections.
Marriage could help gay youth know that their relationships will be respected, and have a more direct impact on gay and lesbian seniors by allowing them to receive Social Security spousal benefits and avoid inheritance taxes that spouses don’t have to pay. But it will take more than a court decision and a marriage license to stop anti-gay bullying and the loneliness of coming out, or the difficulties of aging within a community that often seems obsessed with youth.
In addition to not solving all our problems, a singular focus on marriage also feeds into our lack of attention to biases within our own community, as well as a lack of reciprocity when it comes to supporting our allies.
We cheer groups like the NAACP when they sign on to court briefs supporting our right to marry, but do we take the time to learn about the issues that top their agenda and figure out how we can help?
Many activists, both individuals and organizations, do a wonderful job of pursuing many strategies and angles in the complex fight for LGBT equality. But some of us have become so concerned about marriage rights that we forget that for some LGBT people, planning a wedding is not a priority — or, for some, is an unimaginable luxury.
If you are an LGBT person in a community, family or religious faith where you fear for your physical or emotional safety due to hate crimes and overt homophobia, you won’t feel safe accessing marriage rights even if they are legally available to you.
If you are poor or unable to find gainful employment based on transphobia or other reasons, getting married is unlikely to be the first thing on your mind.
And if you must deal with other issues such as sexism, racism and classism, the right to marry might rank very differently on your priority list than if you experience privilege in all of these other areas, and marriage is the only right you are aware that you are being denied.
To be certain, the fight for marriage equality has galvanized our community, and it is appropriate that it has become the litmus test for our allies.
Marriage is the ultimate validation our society gives to couples, so it makes sense that it has become the Holy Grail for a community where our difference, and the resulting discrimination we face, is defined by who we love.
Still, allowing our movement to be reduced to a single issue risks setting us back farther than any court decision ever could.
To reach full equality, we must say “I Do” to marriage, but also much, much more.