What's Next in the Struggle After Marriage Equality?

June 30th 2015

Aron Macarow

Marriage has not been the highest priority issue for me in the greater LGBT equality movement. This is not because I'm transgender and feel that I lack basic legal protections, although that is true. Or, because I am young and queer and have mixed feelings about the government's involvement in my relationship's legitimacy, although that is accurate, too. (Why can't we push the government out of all our bedrooms?)

Housing discrimination, the ability to come out at work without fear of getting fired, access to competent and necessary healthcare services, the deportation of LGBT immigrants -- these are just a handful of the issues that face some Americans in the LGBT community every day. I always understood that marriage equality was important because of the necessity of equal treatment under the law. But it never struck me as deeply, personally meaningful in the way it clearly pulled at the heartstrings of others for whom it intensely mattered. I was surprised to find myself tearing up on my way to work the morning the U.S. Supreme Court issued its marriage decision.

Short decades of dramatic change

Despite being a Millennial, I came out as queer long enough ago to remember a time when coming out meant giving up a traditional path. I struggled with the belief that marriage, among other standard markers of American adulthood, would never be on the table. Just surviving in what sometimes felt like a very hostile world seemed challenging.

I remember having rocks thrown at me while someone chased after me and yelled, "Dyke!" I remember buying a marriage equality shirt online -- it felt too risky to go to the gay neighborhood and shop for one in person -- and then being afraid to wear it in public. I remember fighting for the very existence of our high school's Gay Straight Alliance, even after one of our members committed suicide partially in response to anti-gay bullying. (We were unequivocally barred from starting any similar group in junior high, although we existed and we needed each other's support.) And I remember my first awareness that gender transition was something possible, long before I even had the space to think about what that might mean for me and my future trans identity. It was Dana Rivers, the first out trans teacher to make the national news. Rivers was fired solely because she transitioned, despite an award-winning career as a faculty member at Center High School in Sacramento, California.

When the news broke that same-sex marriage was legalized, a close friend across the country commented on social media that it was remarkable that our school would not allow us to buy tickets as same-sex couples to our high school prom, much less take photos together, but we could now legally marry someone of the same sex in all 50 states.

Marriage equality is amazing when we were prevented from going to prom with same-sex partners not so long ago.

Yes, what decades of dramatic change we have lived through, I thought. Even though we have far to go, just look at how far we have come.

I was born in the mid-1980s and am young compared to the older LGBT community who fought for equal rights for years, but the experience of ostracism and discrimination that for so long encapsulated the LGBT experience is a part of my heritage, too. Unlike many younger queer people, I have been in a same-sex domestic partnership already, prior to my medical gender transition; my own experience of adding our names to the California state registry absolutely made me feel very far from equal as a couple in our home state.

Perhaps the culmination of that and my other experiences of anti-LGBT hostility were why I surprised myself with a few tears on Decision Day. I expected to be afraid that we were not going to take the other challenges that face the LGBT community seriously enough in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling. Instead, I am afraid that we are downplaying the importance of what we have accomplished.

The next fight

The #MoreThanMarriage campaign and similar efforts on social media highlight serious problems that face significant portions of the LGBT community, particularly people of color and transwomen. I have used those hashtags myself to point out the absurd inequalities that exist in funding and advocacy efforts when comparing different fights for justice with gay and transgender organizing. I'll continue to use them because they are right.

As many have rightly pointed out, there is much more to fight for before we achieve true equality. And looking beyond the LGBT movement, we see other immense fissures in our society, such as the alarming number of black churches that have burned since Charleston and the confederate flags waving in front of our state houses.

That mild ambivalence toward our joint accomplishment on June 26 was palpable in the energy at the Decision Day rally in West Hollywood, California. Rather than the thousands I have witnessed pull together at that same park in rage to protest rights removed by Proposition 8, last week there were hundreds. Rather than the electric excitement and jubilant masses celebrating the unexpected issuance of marriage licenses by clerks in an act of civil disobedience, there were disconnected crowds.

Is it because we have had marriage equality for two years in California that we have become so blasé? Have we forgotten what it felt like to win that fight?

Why we need to remember

We need to hear these stories of triumph in addition to the stories of distress, and we need to remember them. Not just the stories of older gay and lesbian Americans who are more open about the loss they felt when blockaded from the traditional American life (the marriage, the two kids, the yard and the dog) prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage. We need to hear more stories from younger queer, trans, and LGB-identified people who also felt less connected to the American story because they were denied certain options, such as marriage, that were extended to their peers.

So counter to much of the cynicism on my social media feed over the weekend, I am coming out as a younger queer tranguy who did cry when marriage equality was finally extended throughout the country.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by all of the work we have yet to do. But occasionally, we need to reflect and celebrate victories that come from what is possible when we stand together and affirm each other's basic humanity. Something extraordinary happened on June 26. Let's not linger in our accomplishment and forget that there's more work to do. But let's also not push to move on from that moment too quickly.

Tomorrow we may need to believe that something that is inconceivable today can be a reality in the future. I believe that the trans community needs that feeling. I know I need that feeling. And I cannot imagine that I'm alone.