Why marriage (for some or all) isn’t enough

Although the Supreme Court’s decision to declare section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is a victory for us, it is a partial victory, only. People outside the 12 states and the District of Columbia which currently recognize marriage equality, are still denied the protection that marriage brings.

It’s sad that the five justices who ruled on this didn’t see through to the logical conclusion of one of their statements about the families of same sex couples in their ruling: “The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

That statement doesn’t just apply to the children in the 12 states that currently recognize marriage equality. It applies to all of the two million children the census bureau recently said are being raised by gay or lesbian parents in throughout all the states.

Even if the extremely unlikely outcome had happened, if the court had ruled on the more fundamental constitutional question, it wouldn’t mean our fight for equality is over. In 29 states there is no law against firing someone simply because he or she is gay, or because an employer thinks he or she is. Laws don’t prevent someone from being a jerk and finding another excuse to get rid of someone they don’t like, but non-discrimination laws give you options in the most egregious cases. They also encourage employers, large and small, to create policies that reduce the occurrence of the less egregious cases.

When it becomes legally unacceptable to openly fire, refuse to promote, or otherwise materially penalize employees simply because they are gay, it starts becoming socially unacceptable to joke or negatively comment about it. And studies have shown in other areas of discrimination, that just turning down the heat of acceptability of open discrimination starts changing private attitudes. Not for everyone, but enough to make life a bit more bearable on a day-to-day basis.

In 33 states there is no law against firing or otherwise penalizing an employee for being transgender. Heck, it’s nearly impossible for a person who is either undergoing gender reassignment therapy or has completed it to use a restroom without people throwing hissy fits and wailing and gnashing their teeth about some of the strangest and most far-fetched “consequences” of that.

Even when the transgender person is a six-year-old child.

And don’t get me started on the people who don’t understand that it is not just a matter of someone deciding they want to dress in the other gender’s clothes. So-called natural physical gender is nowhere near as well-defined and clearcut in some cases as most people think.

While 49 states have some form of anti-bullying laws on the books, seven of those states either explicitly exclude harassment due to sexual orientation and gender identity from the definition of bullying, or severely restrict what schools and school employees can do when the bullying occurs in those areas. Another fifteen states don’t specifically exclude harassment because of sexual orientation, but leave the wording vague enough as to make it unenforceable. And then the extent to which gender identity is or isn’t included varies so widely, I get confused whenever I try to read all the charts about it at places such as Bully Police USA or the Trevor Project.

When the elder George Bush was President, the Surgeon General’s office determined that teen suicides could be reduced by two-thirds if we initiated prevention programs targeted toward GLBT youth that attempted to reduce the stigma and fear of rejection. Many other studies conducted by organizations ranging from the federal department of Health and Human Services, to the association of State Attorneys General have reached similar conclusions.

Even in states considered very liberal, with anti-discrimination laws and the whole works, gay and lesbian employees consistently make less money then their straight colleagues with similar education, experience, and job performance evaluations.

So, even if we had received marriage nationwide, there’s still a journey ahead before we’ll be at full equality.

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