Does anyone remember the 2008 election? Were you there? I thought you looked familiar.
Do you remember whom you voted for? It’s OK — now that the election’s over, you can tell me.
You voted for Barack Obama? Nice! Do you remember that wave of hope and optimism that everyone — well, everyone except those crotchety ol’ conservatives — was awash in? Do you remember how people kept talking about how change, real change, was finally here? Finally!
Now, do you remember how some people, despite being elated, felt the need to caution us against complacency, noting that while the election of the first black president was an important milestone for a country saturated with racial inequality, there was nevertheless still much more to accomplish toward creating a just and equitable society?
Do you remember that?
Now, fast forward seven years to Pride weekend. People are elated again. Equality is on the horizon. Do any of those elated feelings seem oddly familiar? That feeling you’re having is deja vu. It’s not uncommon, and it’s not just a symptom of the hangover you got from partying your ass off. (You did a similar thing after the election seven years ago, remember? No? Well, you were pretty wasted.)
The Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage, being “central to dignity and autonomy,” should extend to same-sex couples equally under the protection of the law. And so it is ordered.
But why isn’t everyone ready to party? Love won! “Love is love!” Right? Isn’t this what the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has been fighting for? Why can’t all people just be happy and rainbow-ify their profile picture?
Well, love was never really the issue. Basic civil rights were. Which means, unfortunately, that the tautophrase “love is love” is just as meaningless as it sounds. Of course love is love. What the fuck else would it be?
I take issue with this sloganeering because it detracts from more relevant concepts involved in the jurisprudence that led to this decision — such as justice, for starters.
Apart from being a religious ceremony weighted down with all sorts of ideological baggage, marriage is a secular institution that grants people all manner of benefits and special privileges. And it is these benefits, these legal recognitions, that many have fought for, despite the opposition of those who would allow their personal beliefs to infringe upon the liberty of their fellow citizens. When Justice Anthony Kennedy decided to uphold the much vaunted but seldom defended ideals that this country was founded upon, justice won. Justice.
If not everyone is as jazzed as you would expect, however, maybe it’s because justice in marriage isn’t what everyone within the LGBT community needs most. What members of the LGBT community — such as my roommate, Sergio — have pointed out is that this victory for marriage equality serves primarily to benefit the mainstream face of a movement, namely “white, cisgendered gays and lesbians.”
This victory, though momentous, does little to address the problems faced by transgender individuals and queer persons of color — populations that disproportionately face violence, sexual assault, discrimination, homelessness, suicide and marginalization, even within their own communities.
There’s a real concern surrounding the intensity of the spotlight on marriage. Community members are worried, justifiably, that the other roads to progress and justice may be forgotten in the wake of jubilation. Some celebrators may believe, naively, that the journey is over. But to quote the immortal Karen Carpenter, “we’ve only just begun.”
Hopefully the energy from this one victory propels our society to codify into law further protections of basic dignities and rights — by any means. Because this country still owes people justice, whether it’s willing to grant them acceptance or not. And maybe this victory will create change in unforeseen ways, as Sergio explained to me.
“There’s a lot of money that goes into marriage rights … but I think one thing that could happen is that maybe all of that money and support can be freed up now and focussed on issues that affect transgender and (queer people of color),” Sergio said. “But that’s an optimistic viewpoint.”
Luckily, optimism is in no short supply. This is wonderful and shouldn’t be minimized. What’s not to love about marriage? There’s music and dancing. There’s booze and wedding cake — can’t forget the cake.
But if some members of the LGBT community choose to respectfully pass on that cake, that’s totally their prerogative. Pride is their celebration, after all, and the general public really shouldn’t even have to be reminded of that fact. And if others choose to take part in celebrating while at the same time cautioning that we still have work to do, we should understand why.
My friend Natalia phrased it best: “You can celebrate, and you can acknowledge that there’s more work to be done. You can do both. The human capacity to feel for things is not finite. Sometimes we, especially in America … are fed these binaries — it must be this, or it must be that, and you can’t have both. The thing to learn is that’s a lie. Have your cake and eat it, too — it’s time to start thinking that way.”
Zion Barrios writes the Monday column on social topics that rarely enter open conversation. You can contact him at [email protected].