Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Op-ed: A Victory But Not Justice for All

Op-ed: A Victory But Not Justice for All

Monday’s Supreme Court action brought marriage victories to five states and likely put six more on the fast track to issuing licenses to same-sex couples. That’s a massive victory, fought for and won by brave lawyers and plaintiffs alike. In just two short years, we’ve gone from six states with marriage equality, mostly in the Northeast, to nearly 30 from the heartland to the coasts. Today, more than half the people in this country live in states where gay and lesbian couples enjoy equal marriage rights and responsibilities.  That’s cause for celebration.

But if, in spite of all that good news, this latest victory leaves you feeling deeply frustrated, you’re not alone. It’s maddening that the Supreme Court would pass on a natural opportunity — and, some would say, a responsibility — to settle this issue once and for all, especially when the right thing to do is glaringly obvious.

That frustration isn’t about winning versus losing. It’s not about running up our tally of victories. There isn’t a single advocate in this movement who wants to bring marriage to all 50 states so we can be the champions and rub it in the National Organization for Marriage’s face. We want marriage in all 50 states because right now there are couples from Arkansas to Montana who weren’t reached by Monday’s decision and they and their families are still suffering.

In more than 20 states in this country, thousands of children being raised by loving gay and lesbian parents will go to bed in a state that still pretends their family doesn’t exist. In these places, fragile legal rights can be shattered in a heartbeat — and a multidecade relationship can be erased in the eyes of the law by a car accident, cancer, or a vengeful family member.

Take Paul Hard of Montgomery, Ala., for example. Paul and his partner, David, had been together for seven years when they decided to get married in Massachusetts in May of 2011. Three months later, David was in a car accident less than 20 miles from their Montgomery home.

Paul raced to the hospital to be by David’s side, frantically texting friends and family to pray for his husband. When he arrived at the hospital, he was told he couldn’t see David and was given no information about his husband’s condition. In the eyes of the state of Alabama, the two men were legal strangers, so Paul had no right to any information. Less than an hour later, a hospital orderly — not a doctor — told Paul, “Well, he’s dead.”  

The death certificate listed David as “Never Married.”

In the weeks and months following David’s death, Paul encountered a number of legal roadblocks in his quest for justice. Most notably, Paul was told he would be denied any proceeds from a wrongful death case because Alabama law prohibits him from being listed as the surviving spouse. In his pursuit of justice, Paul has enlisted the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Alabama’s discriminatory marriage ban on his behalf.  

Paul has to depend on a courageous organization like SPLC because he can’t depend on his own state’s laws. Today, because the Supreme Court declined to take up a case, Paul still doesn’t even know if he can truly depend on his country’s Constitution. That’s wrong, and no partial victory — as incredibly important as these victories are — can erase that ongoing injustice.

So as we celebrate, and as we congratulate with tears of joy couples from Utah to Virginia whose relationships will be equal in the eyes of the law for the first time, we can never lose sight of the marriage victory we know we need. And even once we win that victory, we have massive battles ahead to guarantee full nondiscrimination laws in all 50 states. Simply put, delaying justice isn’t a neutral act, it causes harm to thousands every day. “Final victory eventually” isn’t good enough. Folks like Paul need it now.

CHAD GRIFFIN is president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organizations.

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