Marriage equality is not enough

Ten years ago tomorrow – on May 17, 2004 – Massachusetts began recognizing the marriages of same sex couples. The first state in the Union to do so.

Today, 17 states have the “freedom to marry” and over 38% of the U.S. population lives in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages or honors out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.

These are victories, but it is not enough.

In my home state of California, for nearly a hundred years “all marriages of white persons with Negroes or mulattoes [were] declared to be illegal and void,” an edict which held until that state’s Supreme Court declared that “marriage is thus something more than a civil contract subject to regulation by the state; it is a fundamental right of free men.”

Of course, that 1949 ruling didn’t stop the California electorate from passing Prop 22 in 2000. The Act, stating simply that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” was approved by 61% of the voters.

61%. In California. In 2000.

I was in high school at the time. As President of my high school’s Gay Straight Alliance, I campaigned against the proposition.

To be honest, I didn’t work that hard. It was a fun opportunity to see the insides of a political campaign, but why bother fighting too much? It was California. In 2000. Such a ballot measure could never, ever pass.

61%.

A few short months later, I had my senior prom at some ritzy, San Fransisco hotel. The photographer, who took chintzy shot after chintzy shot of young couples in their glamorous best, refused to take a photograph of me and my (female) date. He graciously included us in a group photo, but made us stand on either side. Separated by all the mix-gendered couples wrapped in embrace.

61%.

I was proud to live in Massachusetts when this state’s supreme court found marriage denial unconstitutional. I was thrilled when Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts SJC was selected as my college commencement speaker. When she told us, just days after the first same-sex marriages, that it does get better. That we can make a difference.

In the political battles that followed, I made daily pilgrimages to the Massachusetts State House. Standing in solidarity with those who would not see the the inclusive ruling over turned.

There was no constitutional amendment. Same sex-marriages continued to take place. We won. And here we are, ten years later.

These are victories, but it is not enough.

It is not enough because young men and women continue to be taunted and abused for their sexual orientation. It is not enough because, as the CDC reports, a study of LGBT middle and high school students found that 80% had been verbally harassed at school; 60% felt unsafe at school; 40% had been physically harassed at school; and 20% had been the victim of a physical assault at school.

It is not enough because lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers. Because between 20 to 40 percent of young, homeless, people are gay or transgender – a disproportionate share for a group that makes up only 5 to 10 percent of the overall youth population.

Because another Matthew Shepard could die any day.

It is not enough.

We should celebrate our victories. Indeed. We have much to celebrate. But the battle is not over. Far from it.

A new day is dawning. There is much work to be done.

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