Marriage Equality but One Paving Stone on Path Toward Social Justice


A sunset.

Credit: CreativeCommons / BMcIvr.

I have mixed emotions as I write these words on this truly historic day when the Supreme Court granted marriage equality to same-sex couples nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges, thereby striking down bans in the remaining fourteen states.
On one level, I am ecstatic that our love and our relationships now hold the same legal status as different sex couples with all the economic privileges, benefits, and responsibilities, as well as enhanced claims of non-birth partners in the raising of children. Especially for upcoming generations, most will not have to live with the extreme levels of scorn and the second-class legal status, which so many of us endured.
It was good to hear President Barack Obama – who has advanced LGBT equality more than any other president – say today in his congratulatory White House remarks that “Love Is Love,” something we have long held and expressed. He said the Supreme Court ruling was the

“consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents. Of parents who loved their children no matter what. Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts and stayed strong and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.”

And this is only one reason why I support the courage of trans and immigration activist Jennicet Gutiérrez, who interrupted Obama’s speech two days prior at the White House Wednesday, June 24 in commemoration of LGBT Pride Month. Gutiérrez is a founding member of FAMILIA TQLM created to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants, which the group argues are largely excluded from immigration debates. And immigration issues, which Gutiérrez “brought to the highest level of public discourse,” as we within the AIDS activist movement phrased it back in the 1980s, and many other issues highlight an entire other side of emotions emerging within me on this historic day because we as a nation have yet many more paving stones to lay on the path toward social justice.
For example, following Obama’s Rose Garden remarks on marriage equality, he boarded a plane to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was to give a eulogy at the funeral of murdered pastor, civil rights advocate, and South Carolina state Senator Clementa Pickney, who was gunned down along with eight others by a lone white supremacist terrorist while attending a Bible study group at Pinkney’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Reformist/Assimilationist Focus
In our currentso-called “neoliberal” age, emphasis is placed on privatization, global capital, reduced governmental oversight and deregulation of the corporate sector, attacks on labor organizing, and competition. We are living in an environment in whichproperty rights hold precedence over human rights.In this environment,we are witnessing a cultural war waged by the political, corporate, and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years.
Looking back over the years, as LGBT visibility has increased, as our place within the culture has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained, but also, something very precious has diminished. That early excitement, that desire – though by no means the ability – to fullyrestructurethe culture, as distinguished from our mere reform, seems now to lay dormant in some sectors of our communities.
Within at least some segments of the movement, I perceive four main themes as the major focus. These Ms are: 1.Marriage Equality, 2.Military Inclusion, 3.Media Visibility, and 4. MakingMoney.
Marriage Equality:
The Supreme Court has placed us now above the symbolic line of demarcation granting us the estimated 1300 privileges and benefits of marriage previously accessible only to different-sex married couples. With our ascension over the demarcation line, though, we find the deeply entrenched hierarchy of privilege remaining intact on the basis of relationship status! Why should couples in legally-recognized relationships collect the government-granted array of economic and social benefits at the exclusion of those who either cannot or will not meet prescribed requirements? We must now continue the fight toabolish the line itself forever, and as a society, provide these benefits to all, regardless of relationship status.
Military Inclusion:
Due to the dedication and hard work by individuals and organizations over the previous decades who have been successful in lobbying government officials to repeal the highly discriminatory and offensive so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military policy, now lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can serve their nation openly. This reversal stands to benefit the country by providing a greater pool of committed and talented individuals whose chief intent is to serve and protect their nation with pride. Existing medical and conduct regulations, however, still prohibit many individuals along the trans* spectrum from enlisting.
While stated military goals may promote the notion of providing global security and protecting and defending the homeland, we must maintain and extend our focused and continued attention. Furthermore, we must critique the overriding abuses of maintaining a military that engages in unjustified incursions into other lands controlled by an industrial complex that promotes corporate interests. The U.S. government has officially estimated the 2015 military budget alone at $598.5 billion dollars comprising 54% of total U.S. governmental discretionary expenditures.
In addition, I believe we must challenge the extraordinary wide income gap in the United States that offers few options for reasonable employment for young and older workers alike, making military service one of a limited number of options for employment and advancement.
We must work to address the largest income and asset gap of all other so-called “developed” nations, in which the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6 percent of the wealth, the next 9 percent an estimated 38.5 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9 percent.
Within this environment, politicians, working on behalf of corporate backers, continue to provide massive tax breaks for exceedingly wealthy individuals and corporations. In addition, they blame and drive to decertify labor unions, end government entitlement programs designed to offer a safety net to the country’s most economically vulnerable, and attempt to privatize everything from Medicare to national parks all in the paradoxical name of “free enterprise.” Within this environment, corporate bosses, through their mouth pieces in government, divert educational institutions to the private sector to accommodate the needs of business.
Media Visibility
Today, we see more lesbian and gay people, occasionally bisexual and trans characters on television, in films, fiction and non-fiction materials, magazines, commercials, and ads. These characterizations, though on occasion representing minoritized races and ethnicities, are largely comprised of white and middle- to upper-class people. The majority of these characters would be considered by many to be “positive” representations of the LGBTQ community, which may more fully and accurately represent some of our lives relative to the rather sad and miserable or violently threatening characterizations presented previously. However, the majority depict the upwardly mobile, socially assimilated character who poses little overt challenge to the status quo, those who function rather successfully in the competitive corporate world, those who shop for a dishwasher or go on an expensive vacation with their heterosexual friends and relatives.
While many benefits accrue with these representations, such as providing better role models for our youth, and helping to overcome many of the stereotypes and reducing prejudices, the Capitalist system seems to have employed these images of “we are just like you” in its attempts to co-opt critique and possible challenges to that very system.
In our communities, the “Pride” marches of the past have morphed into parades and festivals funded on a base of major corporate sponsorship and capitalist consumption. Parade contingents now include large canvas banners affixed with familiar logos of national and local banks, and insurance, soft drinks and beer, and real estate companies. Ironically, some of these same companies not so long ago refused to hire “out” members of our communities, but seeing how our business will improve their economic bottom line, we are now happily welcomed. We can now buy almost everything with the rainbow flag. I call this consumerism “the tchotchketization of a movement” (“tchotchke” in Yiddish means knick knacks, small objects, etc.).
Making Money:
While possibly the exception, and certainly not necessarily the rule, some of us, at least, are now “out” at work with few or no real consequences to our job security. Others now ascend the corporate ladder with relative ease and own exclusive vacation homes in the Florida Keys, Panama, or Tuscany to “get away from it all.” We gentrify older urban neighborhoods, and spruce up city landscapes with the newest decorative trends.
I ask, however, are we actually contributing to the ever widening income gap that has overtaken our country? And what about the folks and entire communities we dislocate as we gentrify entire neighborhoods?
More often than not, these individuals include white gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women who conform fairly closely to traditional conceptualizations of gender expression, as cisgender. Lesbians, bisexual women, and trans people within an overriding sexist and cissexist society, statistically earn less than their cismale counterparts, and individuals who present along the transgender spectrum continue to find less freedom of expression, and, therefore, far less job security.
A Call to Further and Wider Action
While the “4 Ms” are all laudable goals, I believe that if we are going to achieve a truly equitable society, we must reach higher, wider, and broader. As important as these goals may be, I hope we do not envision them as the final resting place over the rainbow. If we do rest here, after having been seduced by promises of achieving some degree of credibility and respectability, I fear we will have become part of the very problems that so many of us have fought so tirelessly to eradicate.
I do remain hopeful, however. The increasing visibility and recognition of trans* people today has shaken traditionally dichotomous notions of gender, and in turn, other stifling kinds of binaries, which are the very cornerstones for the entrenchment keeping our society from moving forward. Their stories and experiences have great potential to bring us back into the future – a future in which anyone on the gender spectrum everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender. It is a future in which the “feminine” and “masculine” – as well as all the qualities on the continuum in between – can live and prosper in us all.
Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people. Let us, then, also work on dismantling all the many spokes to conquering all the many forms of oppression in all their many forms.
Until and unless we can join in coalition with other groups, I consider that the possibility for achieving a genuine sense of community and a genuine sense of equity will be unattainable. I believe also that sexual and relational attractions and gender identities and expressions alone are not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, a movement for progressive social change, and that we must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base a community and a movement not simply on social identities, but also on shared ideals and values among individuals from disparate social identities, with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving their objectives.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

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