There's an old Henny Youngman joke that goes something like this: "Before marriage I was incomplete. After marriage... I'm finished." Like all good jokes, it's funny because there's more than a little truth to it. Life after marriage changes the two people entering into it forever. And that change, as the married often claim, is not always for the better.
This joke reminds me of what's happening to the LGBT movement now. Life before marriage equality has certainly left us incomplete. That's why we've spent more than a decade raising awareness, amassing money and harnessing considerable resources to fight for this issue with a laser-like focus. But when the time comes that we finally get the marriage equality we've been fighting for, will the fight be over? How does a movement survive the realization of its goals? In other words, is there life after marriage equality?
The answer is yes. But the question is no laughing matter. Movements that have lost common cause have lost common purpose, and with it their ability to organize, inform and create meaningful change. Many women today fear using the "F" word ("feminist") because of the dated connotation and lack of urgency that the word seems to conjure. The apathy that has set in has paved the way for states enacting the most severe restrictions on women's right to choose in a generation. Even access to contraception is being re-litigated across the country. The LGBT movement must avoid becoming disjointed and irrelevant like many movements before it, by looking beyond marriage to the unifying problems that we still need to overcome.
It would be wonderful to think that the only issue facing LGBT people is the inability to marry. Unfortunately, marriage may be the least of our problems. More basic even than whom we have the legal right to couple with is where we can live on our own. Our homes, the most sacrosanct form of shelter, are still vulnerable to random and biased discrimination on the basis of our LGBT status. While there are 21 states that prohibit discrimination, there are no federal laws that protect individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It may not make as good a bumper sticker, but "housing equality" should be the next great LGBT battle cry.
When we shift our focus from the personal to the professional, things go from bad to worse. Studies show that 15 to 43 percent of LGBT people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace, with 10 to 28 percent passed over for promotions due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. If we come together to force our legislators to vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), it will go along way toward advancing our community's push for full equality.
Nothing is more potent in the push for civil rights than fighting forces that are beyond laws and legislation. External and internal homophobia are the true killers of LGBT individuals, whether by violence or self-inflicted wounds. Though President Obama singed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law in 2009, turn on the TV any day of the week today and you're likely to hear someone equating LGBT rights with bestiality, pedophilia and the desecration of God. In spite of reaching a tipping point this year where more Americans support LGBT rights than don't, bullying, taunting and teasing remain a significant reason that LGBT youth and young adults have the highest rates of suicide in the country. The greatest weapon we have in fighting homophobia is, and has always been, coming out of the closet. "Come out, come out, wherever you are" will continue to make a great unifying call for our community in a post-marriage-equality world.
It's hard to believe that we are at the point where we can even talk about what happens after marriage. Seriously, pinch me. But this is no time to think that the fight has already been won, even if Time recently declared that it had been. For all we know, the Supreme Court could kick the can down the road on DOMA and Prop 8 or, worse, uphold both laws and the institutionalized discrimination they entail. But if we are reading the tea leaves correctly, we are on the precipice of the civil rights moment of this generation, a fundamental and permanent shift in federal policy toward LGBT rights. I know that many people want life after marriage equality to be about registering at Crate & Barrel, hiring a caterer and securing the synagogue. In many ways, our whole struggle has been about the movement toward a struggle-free existence, toward the day when we can stop fighting and live lives that are just like everyone else's.
Yes, the day is coming when we won't be incomplete, but we're not finished with the fight. Now more than ever, we must remain vigilant and hold fast to our cause. We must not rest until all LGBT people in all 50 states in our great country are free to work, live and love equally.