What Marriage Equality Means To You

Yesterday, I posted about what marriage equality means to me and Rebecca, also known as Team Iris's fearless (and engaged!!) leadership. First of all, Bex and I would like to thank you for your messages of encouragement and support! I happen to think we're pretty cute, but it means a lot that you guys do, too. I wanted that essay to really communicate how I feel about marriage equality - that it's enmeshed within a larger history of the civil rights struggle - by contextualizing it with my family's story. To my mind, the fight for marriage equality is very much a part of the American dream that brought my great-grandparents here, and it means a lot that their story touched you, too.

It was also important for us to explain why we are passionate about marriage equality because we know, from your blogs and your messages, that you - the general, 14-18 year-old social justice blogging 'you' - frequently lament the movement's focus on marriage equality. You argue that the stories being told in the media are stories of marriage, stories of families talking about how marriage will make their lives better, excluding stories about the enormous difficulties facing LGBT youth. You wonder how someone's wedding could possibly take precedence, in the media and the movement, over issues like LGBT youth homelessness and trans youth suicide. At a time when everyone is talking about marriage, you remind us that the equality movement needs to be about more than marriage.

But you recognize, I'm sure, that the fight for marriage equality is about really serious legal stuff that will impact your lives, too. It's about ensuring that longtime partners have the legal authority to make decisions for each other in cases of medical crisis. It's about providing for widowed partners and children. It's about building a protected family structure for growing families, one that is respected when the family's at home or on vacation. For binational couples like Bex and me, however, marriage equality means being together. Full stop. For us, there is no together without marriage equality.

Yesterday, Bex and I sat in on a live web conference with Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Along with others, the NCLR represents plaintiffs in the Tennessee case. After a brief statement, she took questions from those on the call and was kind enough to answer ours. We asked how she would communicate the importance of marriage equality to young people who have other issues closer to their hearts. She offered two really important points in reply to our question. The first we touched on yesterday - in her words, marriage equality is about building 'the kind of country you want to live in: [one] where people don't have to fear racial profiling, or violence from the police, can get a good job and support their families, go to college...where every couple who wishes to marry and have their relationship protected and secure is able to do that.' That's very much at the heart of what I wrote about yesterday: about my great-grandparents, who had an dream of what life in America was like and risked a lot, at very young ages, in pursuit of that American ideal. Marriage equality is a big step on that path towards that ideal.

Then she said this, which I hope you take to heart:

...[It] is impossible to convince people to examine their own private prejudices if the government is discriminating. So if the government won't let us marry, for many people that provides the end of the discussion. Why should they be open to LGBT equality and acceptance of us if the government won't even let us marry? So you have to get the government out of the playing field, out of being an actor in discrimination before you can then have the conversation about how we're supposed to treat people.

In other words, marriage equality represents a big step on the path towards removing officially-sanctioned discrimination from people's playbooks, because it's used as a get-out-of-jail-free card by people who don't want to have to think about their own beliefs. If you look closely at the language used yesterday, you'll see why this is important. There was a lot of talk about marriage as an institution that has meant one thing in particular for lots of societies for a long, long time. As a result, conservative commentators jumped on it - after all, until Massachusetts in 2004, marriage was a uniquely heterosexual privilege. Many of the conservatives discussing marriage equality after the SCOTUS hearing yesterday seemed not to realize that this is an inherently discriminatory statement. That's what needs to change: this normalized discrimination that prevents good, fruitful, meaningful discussions from taking place. Viewed in that way, marriage equality is the first step towards a better future for everyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.

We've talked about marriage equality in a few instances on the blog and in Iris. Bina Hammer's poem 'Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA,' which appears in the second issue of Iris, is a great place to start. But we'd love to hear from you, too. Bex and I had discussed how we'd answer your question, as did our resident mom-in-chief. But in the end, we felt it was more important for us to focus on what it means for us - and to give you the floor. I think we've given you food for thought, much as you give us. So, what do you think? What does marriage equality mean to you? (And yes, we'll take comments from the over-18 peanut gallery too!)

Thanks again for your congratulations and support yesterday!