The fate of marriage for same-sex couples in California hangs in the balance of an upcoming Supreme Court ruling, and speculation about the possible outcome has hit a fever pitch.
Marriage is important. It will be a milestone achievement of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement for equality and for anyone who cares about social justice.
Marriage is important to get out of the way, as well. The frenzy surrounding the pending Supreme Court ruling would suggest that the work of equality starts and ends with the freedom to marry. While it is terribly important -- as a practical matter for those waiting to get married, and as a symbolic matter for anyone concerned with equality and fairness -- the furor leaves the impression that it will somehow complete our work.
That could not be further from the truth. Marriage is one stop on the journey, but not the journey's end.
If the values and reasoning behind our challenge to Proposition 8 are held to with integrity, our community and all our allies will redouble their efforts to achieve full equality once marriage is settled.
Isn't an epidemic of bullying and youth suicide as pressing, if not more pressing, than the freedom to marry? Transgender people face discrimination, harassment, violence and economic injustice at alarmingly high levels! There is a terrible trend of seniors electing to closet themselves once again when they make the move into nursing homes, out of fear of harassment.
While we have it in California, there is still no federal employment nondiscrimination law, leaving members of our community terribly vulnerable in 34 states.
For anyone who thinks that LGBT equality is a done deal, did you notice how quickly we were cast aside in the comprehensive immigration reform debate? The characterization of this proposed reform as comprehensive is incomprehensible. This illuminates in no uncertain terms that it is still politically OK to exclude LGBT people.
The challenges still facing the LGBT community after decades of historic discrimination are all around us: The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents are victims of bullying twice as often as their straight peers. No more than 10 percent of American youth are LGBT, but 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, according to the LGBT Youth Homeless Service Provider Survey. And the journal Child Welfare reports that 62 percent of homeless LGBT youth have attempted suicide, compared with 29 percent of their straight peers. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, LGBT elders often resist services designed to help them, because of real or perceived discrimination. Harassment and discrimination are rampant in the transgender community. Unemployment for transgender people is twice the national average; 90 percent of employed transgender people have faced harassment at work; and 47 percent describe losing a job or promotion due to their gender identity, all according to the National Trans Discrimination Survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Restoring the freedom to marry in California will not directly advance solutions to any of these problems.
That's why elected officials and Equality California continue to push forward on ambitious legislation that will help bring full equality to all LGBT Californians -- particularly the most vulnerable in our community. All six of EQCA's sponsored bills for 2013 have passed their house of origin, including two first-in-the-nation measures: one to close loopholes for youth organizations that discriminate against LGBT people, and another to ensure that transgender students have equal access to programs and activities.
There is a notion circulating that the adversaries of equality will pack up and go home after marriage returns to California or DOMA is struck down. Lessons learned from other judicial victories demonstrate that such a conclusion is erroneous. The pro-choice movement had its landmark Supreme Court victory, Roe v. Wade, 40 years ago, in 1973. Last year alone, in Congress and state legislatures across the country, there were over 2,000 pieces of legislation introduced with the intent of stripping women's reproductive health rights. Similarly, LGBT people will always need political power and vigilance against those who would hold us back out of prejudice, ignorance or malice.
The day that all people are able to marry the person they love will indeed be a joyous day when justice prevails. The day after that needs to be a day where LGBT people and allies recommit ourselves to continuing to secure full equality at all levels, and settling for nothing less.