Beyond marriage

Two vital lessons, 14 months after marriage equality came to Massachusetts: First, the courts are only one of many battlegrounds. Second, every other issue—job and HIV discrimination, for instance—still needs our attention

BY Advocate.com Editors

June 14 2005 11:00 PM ET

Last June my partner, Denise McWilliams, and I were legally married. It was an event I had never imagined would be possible. But we are living in historic times, and because I live in the great state of Massachusetts, I have benefited in the most profound and personal way.Less than 12 months later I have become the new executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the organization whose momentous victory in the Goodridge v. Department of Public Health case before the Massachusetts supreme judicial court resulted in all those thousands of happy weddings.Like many groups tackling marriage equality, GLAD deals with both the benefits and the downsides of the matrimonial juggernaut. On the plus side: Marriage has placed LGBT people in the center of public discussion like never before in the history of our country. Marriage is a gateway to a whole host of rights, both legal and social. And marriage represents our humanity and challenges the country to reexamine the lies that our opponents perpetuate about us.On the trickier side: As marriage has taken center stage, other concerns of the community may be perceived to be taking a backseat.GLAD has become well and truly identified with marriage equality: Some think marriage is the only thing we work on. Some think marriage is the high-water mark for this organization, and for the community. And as a cultural phenomenon that may be true. Will Japanese television ever be in Boston to film GLAD’s Medicaid hearing about covering an HIV-related surgical procedure? Probably not. Will People magazine ever do a piece on a trans woman’s right to keep her job in New Hampshire? Unlikely—though we push for it, and hope.But neither marriage equality in one state nor worldwide publicity represents the measure of our success, nor the scope of our concerns. Youth issues, transgender concerns, HIV, plain old employment discrimination—none of them have abated, let alone disappeared. And while our community is indeed enjoying great leaps forward, our opposition is also bigger, richer, and more powerful than ever before. The challenges right now are at least as great as the opportunities. We all have to raise money, mobilize, speak out, and act.The courts—where GLAD works primarily—matter enormously, but we cannot afford to rely on courts alone. Where would Brown v. Board of Education have gone without the broad-based movement led by Martin Luther King Jr.? And where would King have been without Brown? That is why legal strategy has to be combined with an educational and advocacy strategy that includes all of our community advocates and partners. In Massachusetts it is an organized community of LGBT people, reaching out to traditional allies and new friends, that has sustained Goodridge and fought back political challenges to marriage equality.My challenge at GLAD is to bring the excitement and energy of our very important marriage work to the rest of our docket. To me, marriage is important because it is about our refusal to let ourselves be limited by bias and discrimination. The fight for marriage is akin to all the rest of GLAD’s fights: for the right of a teenage boy to take his boyfriend to the prom; for the right of a transgender police officer in Vermont to keep his job; the right of a lesbian mom in Maine to retain custody of her child when her relationship ended—the right, in a word, to make the choices that define us.If you’re excited about marriage equality, bring that excitement to the work of supporting our LGBT youth. If you frankly don’t care about marriage equality, just remember that we need you for so many other battles that need to be fought and won. Goodridge is certainly an incredibly significant milestone in our community’s advancement. Yet it is just that—a milestone. It marks our progress, but is not the end point. I look forward to building on the momentum of Goodridge to continue the work so critical to all of us—creating a society where we are all free to pursue our dreams.

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