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Why Legal Equality Isn't Real Equality

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Despite all of the recent progress on gay marriage, we are still living in a country that is deeply, deeply ignorant and bigoted. This last Friday, a federal judge finished hearing testimony in Detroit concerning the gay marriage lawsuit in Michigan. Most of the testimony in the trial was about whether or not gay parents were suitable to raise children.

The fact this is even considered, the fact we have to live in a system where our skill as parents is even a question, should tell all of us how far we are from equality. For that to be questioned someone has to process us as an entirely different type of human being. The truth is, heterosexuals have the right to be terrible parents. Gays, on the other hand, must do no wrong -- or else we don't get any rights.

Even if we are to achieve full equality, we don't need to look far to know what the future looks like. More than 50 years after the passage of the civil rights act and voting rights acts, African Americans continue to face broad-based discrimination. In some ways, the worst discrimination happens in ways that is difficult for African Americans to explain, but which they sense and understand as part of the lingering racism in society. It's not going to be that different for us.

The purpose in saying this is not to scare or to make anyone feel downcast. I think we need to look at our situation with clear eyes and know that even after marriage equality is achieved, this is but one battle, and even once we have legal equality, we will still be a long way from true equality. As always, we can say that there are non-discrimination clauses, but non-discrimination clauses on the basis of race have not protected African Americans to a full extent.

People who identify as African American or who have "black" sounding names continue to be less likely to be chosen for a job opening. Study after study has been conducted to prove that there are systemic barriers to African Americans getting hired. Even if it isn't as easy to spot out a gay person's resume, all we need to do is go in for an interview to solve that problem.

Of course, this also has to do with the everyday slights we experience as gay individuals, which occur even more often to LGBT couples. April DeBoer and Jayne Rouse, the lesbian couple who are the defendants in Michigan's same-sex marriage court case, are likely to win the court case at hand. The odds are in their favor, the plaintiffs showed clear bias on the testimony of the defense experts, and so far every single gay marriage case since United States v. Windsor has been won. However, winning a court case doesn't mean April and Jayne won't receive sidelong glances or rude comments from nasty parents at school. It doesn't mean their children won't face harassment from the progeny of bigots. It doesn't mean they'll be safe from discrimination. It just means that the state won't be their primary abuser anymore.

We're living in an exciting time right now, where progress seems to be accelerating every day. Unfortunately, we need to temper our enthusiasm and understand that the battle for civil rights does not end with the law. Good wages, employment, equal treatment in housing, workplace conditions, and the general way we treat each other in society -- these things are the difference between legal equality and equality in fact.

So let's not forget, as this trial of the absurd goes on, that just because some expert with a Ph.D. says we are just as good at parenting, it doesn't mean we have hit the finish line. So far, we've jumped over a few hurdles. In the race for equality, it's not about making it over a few obstacles today. It's about running the whole distance and never, ever giving up.