Gay rights. A term that defines the social welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals has now transformed into a term that is synonymous with gay marriage. But LGBT rights are much more expansive than just the issue of marriage. They entail a wide range of political and social protections including housing rights, equal partner benefits, the right to adopt, anti-discrimination laws and many other civil liberties.
So why is it that we in the United States are so fixated on the issue of same-sex marriage when the expansive list of gay rights has yet to be accomplished legally? Out of the 50 states, only five (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and recently the District of Columbia) legally recognize marriage equality. Thirty states have passed constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, and in 30 states, LGBT individuals can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identification, without being able to take any legal action. By banning same-sex marriage, over 1,000 federal protections and obligations that are granted to heterosexual couples are stripped away from LGBT couples, according to the National Association of Social Workers.
These statistics are alarming and bring attention to other LGBT issues, and indicate that same-sex marriage is an important part of LGBT rights. It gives LGBT individuals the legal means to express love for their partner and provides specific protections to LGBT couples. But there still remains a sentiment between LGBT individuals, activists and their supporters that the gay rights movement is in dire need of reinvention to achieve its ultimate goal: equality.
The public is constantly bombarded with developments about same-sex marriage, but prominent homosexual politicians and celebrities and outlandish legal actions taken against LGBT individuals are left unnoticed by the media. When Ellen DeGeneres wed her long-time girlfriend Portia de Rossi in August 2008 in California, the nation looked on with surprise, interest and support for the two celebrities. But the legality of their wedding was barely mentioned by the media, as same-sex marriage licenses in California became invalid by Proposition 8 in late November 2008. In November 2009 when Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican running for governor of Massachusetts, chose the openly gay Sen. Richard Tisei to be his running mate, the media skated over the announcement as if it was nothing.
While transgender men and women can’t hold a job for more than three months and queer kids in middle school are taunted and beat up by bullies in class, will same-sex marriage address these issues as well?
Same-sex marriage and civil unions don’t address issues of discrimination, harassment, denial of housing and jobs and partner benefits. Same-sex marriage overshadows issues of equality with its grandeur and romantic appeal and shouldn’t be the focal point of the battle for equality for LGBT individuals. Though it is an important part of the progressive LGBT movement in the United States, it distracts from the vast number of other issues of quality. Same-sex marriage should not be a separate entity from LGBT rights; they should be considered together, never conceding over one another. Only then can the United States achieve equal rights and fight the rhetoric of discriminating individuals and government.
Thisanjali Gangoda is a senior political science and applied conflict management major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]