Some would argue that it is not, that married couples of any sort should not be acccorded benefits that single people do not have, and I believe there is a point there. There are those, even in the queer community, who believe that LGBT activists should never have expended energy on the issue, that it is simply buying into a paternalistic world-view and that we should redefine commitment for ourselves. The argument is that marriage is an outdated institution anyway and that wanting it is simply bourgeois or even elitist. And maybe it is in some ways. The early architects of the marriage debate in the queer community were wealthy backers of organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Fund, and maybe most of us felt they defined what issues we needed to fight for without input from the rest of us. But marriage equality is importantly something that as a queer man I cannot have that others can have solely because of their sexual orientation or identity. To not have the opportunity for marriage, even if I don’t want it, makes me less of a citizen and human being. It is, at its most basic level, discriminatory.
Simply put, marriage equality is important because equality is important.
We are guaranteed equality by the Constitution of the United States. While we may believe that everyone is truly created equal nobody is foolish enough to believe that everyone is equal, even in 2013. Marriage equality is only one element of discrimination against queer folk, but it is just that–one element of discrimination. We also still need to end laws in dozens of states that allow institutional discrimination such as legally firing people because they are gay, allowing housing discrimination, and more. Further yet, as a nation we must end all discrimination, not just for the LGBT community, but also for the African-American community, immigrant community, Muslim community, and more. We are all supposed to be created equal. But anyone who is in a minority group in this country can tell you unequivocally that we are not all treated equally under the law. Marriage equality for queer people is simply one step in that long road to equality for all. Justice-seeking people are fighting for equality for all people on many fronts every day. We are all in this together and there are many battles to be fought simultaneously.
Marriage equality is also a fundamental right that is easier to fight because it is so blatantly obvious. It is much harder to prove that I was fired because I am gay. It is much harder to prove that I was pulled over on the highway because I am Latino. It is much harder to prove that I am getting paid less because I am a woman. It is much harder to prove that cops are more suspicious of me being out at night because I am black. Bigots can hide behind lies with these more subtle forms of discrimination. However, it is definitely not subtle to be told that I cannot marry because the object of my affection shares the same gender, and to have lawyers argue that the reason for it is that marriage has been the same for thousands of years when in fact anyone who can read can tell you that marriage has continuously evolved over the course of that time.
I will say it again. Marriage equality is important because equality is important.
And it is only one of many battles that we are fighting, and it is an important one.
As it stands if I were to become seriously ill tonight my family would have more rights than my partner, Brian, in determining my treatment. If I were to suddenly pass away without a will my possessions, including my share of our house, would belong to my family, not to him. There are countless lesbian and gay couples who do not have a thousand rights and more that straight married couples have, simply because we cannot legally marry. And this is in a society where more than 50% of marriages end in divorce. Brian and I have been together for almost 22 years and are as in love now as we were that many years ago. How dare anyone suggest that our love is not real or meaningful? How dare our country that pretends equality for all not allow us to proclaim our love in a public ceremony as so many of our friends have done? How dare our government stand by this bigotry when the 14th amendment provides us equal protection under the law?
Tell Mildred Loving that marriage was not an important civil right. Tell Sharon Kowalski that marriage is meaningless. Tell anyone whose loving partnership has suffered inequity at the hands of this society that marriage is not important. Marriage equality is important, because equality is important, because equal opportunity is important, because equal protection is important, and because love in all its forms defines us as human beings and denial of that love by the majority prevents me from the opportunity of full citizenship and participation in the society in which I was born. Without it my love will not be diminished, but equality will be.