Op-ed: Looking Beyond Marriage to the Next Fight
I’ve been legally married for a year and a half and it’s been the best time of my life. Being legally bonded to the person I love most, having her recognized as my family and next of kin is a great privilege and I don’t take it lightly. For my wife and I, our marriage has brought us closer together. It nurtures a sense of responsibility knowing we’ve made a vow before God and the law to take care of each other for the rest of our lives. It really is a magical experience and should be a right for everyone.
As a transgender man, marrying a cisgender woman in New York State was fairly easy and uneventful: fill out the form, present identification, get your license. Present said license at your ceremony, then receive your marriage certificate. With the help of organizations like Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and CK Life I was able to get my name and gender marker changed on all my documents years ago for only about $100 and with little hassle. However, I know many transgender people who can’t say the same thing. We all don’t live in a liberal metropolis with resources and several organizations to sort out the legal aspect of transitioning. I have friends and colleagues in states like Texas, Georgia, and Florida who can’t get their documents changed due to high court fees or the mandatory stipulation that you must have specific gender-affirming surgery in order to qualify as a “real” trans person. Having to discuss your private parts or medical history to authenticate your existence is unnecessary and undoubtedly humiliating.
This historic Supreme Court decision will give thousands of loving couples a clearer path to having their union protected by the law, and reap the economic and social benefits that come along with it. It’s also bittersweet for all of the people who were denied, told they didn’t matter, made invisible because marriage was just for straight folks. I remember Janice Langbehn who was in a domestic partnership for over 15 years. Her partner Lisa collapsed from a brain aneurysm and lapsed into coma while vacationing in Florida. Janice and the their children they adopted from birth weren’t allowed access to Lisa while she lay dying alone in hospital room. Her domestic partnership meant nothing when it was supposed to mean the most.
Marriage equality is of utmost importance and the road to this decision has been long and hard fought, but our work for LGBT rights is far from over. Michigan, one of the states that brought this case to the Supreme Court, has no laws protecting LGBT folks from housing and job discrimination. They are just one of 27 states where people can still be denied housing and jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBT advocacy organizations have gotten their fair share of criticism for not mobilizing around these institutional discriminations and putting all their eggs in the marriage basket. Many felt that a disproportionate amount of resources were dedicated to same-sex marriage while other pressing concerns, like access to adequate healthcare, LGBT youth homelessness, and violence against transwomen took a backseat. Millions of dollars flooded the nonprofit sector from affluent white gay men and lesbians in the name of same-sex marriage, creating a funding bubble further marginalizing the needs of cash poor and working class LGBT people, as well as our youth and trans folks. Now that marriage equality is here, we need a more intersectional and nuanced approach to the plurality of needs of our community. Marriage equality for some does not necessarily translate to equity for all.