Marriage equality is law across the United States. Sounding off on the issue raised in several consolidated legal cases, The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize marriage between same-sex couples married elsewhere. The Court did so on the anniversary of the ruling that dismantled the Defense of Marriage Act, a law restricting federal recognition of same-sex marriage performed by states, as well an earlier ruling that legalized sodomy between consenting adults. As with those rulings, this decision comes just ahead of the biggest Pride weekend of the year, with celebrations in both New York and San Francisco. It's the weekend that we observe the Stonewall Riots, those anti-police-violence protests that many recognize as the catalyst for the mainstream LGBT+ rights movement.
Not counting the conservative "fall of Rome" arguments we're likely to hear, over the next few days, two basic reactions to the ruling will be shared: mainstream explanations about how important this moment is in history or more radical dismissals labeling preoccupations with marriage as outdated or assimilationist.
Most people recognize that this ruling is one for the history books, and that it is the culmination of decades of fighting and dying for the right to marry. Others might justifiably point out that marriage is not the issue on which we should be focusing for LGBT+ people. After all, marriage is an essentially conservative instrument—for most it involves monogamy, shared finances, and pledges to the state and/or a deity.
We're expected to commemorate this in some way: either a toast or a fist.
I don't want to be the commenter wagging his finger at those who are more concerned about marriage when our communities ought to focus on racism/transphobia/the violence of capitalism. Of course we should, but who am I to police your attention or your joy?
I don't want to be one of the first people to sound the factory whistle either, telling queer folk to get back to work on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which aims to finally make a federal law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (We're doing all right here in Maryland, but there are no explicit workplace protections based on sexual orientation in 29 states, and 32 states lack statewide protections based on gender identity.)
I'm only marginally interested in pointing out that our primarily Roman Catholic siblings to the south, the United Mexican States, beat us to the punch with their own Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. Felicitación, Mexico.
Nor do I want to forecast the fall of Gay Inc., those major LGBT+ organizations who will need to assess their mission (and fundraising) in the wake of this momentous victory. Though when I spoke earlier this year with the interim director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, Matt Thorn, he discussed the anxiety that a lot of LGBT+ advocates have post-victory.
"When you're unprepared and have a big victory, there is the likelihood that you can take a big hit after the fact. I don't think that a lot of big organizations prepare for that, and it is something that they should very readily keep in mind."
On the steps of the Supreme Court after the ruling, the rhetoric of LGBT+ leaders was already splattered with the hints of a course shift. They talked about workplace protections and rights for transgender Americans. They also talked about standing together against racial violence such as last week's mass killing in Charleston, South Carolina. It's hard to celebrate even a historic win between the funerals of those slain there. Even Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in this marriage equality case, recognized the loss and the pain of those recently slain as he addressed the crowd outside of the courthouse.
I'm not trying to guilt anyone. What I want, I think, is to be happy for those advocates who have been fighting since before I born, who finally see victory in a lifelong cause. I want to take for granted that what used to feel like a radical idea has become a simple, beautiful, boring norm. I want to write something that tomorrow's readers will look at with condescending disbelief over our backwardness.
So let's raise a glass to those who worked to make this victory happen, and to those who will be wed, and to those who won't, to those who will continue to fight on all the other issues affecting LGBT+ people, to those we've lost to homophobic and transphobic violence, to those who never thought this would happen, and to those who will scoff that this was ever an issue.
Wide Stance examines LGBTQ+ life, culture, and politics in queer Baltimore and beyond. Anthony Moll (@anthonywmoll) is a writer and educator who writes about books and all the queer stuff that’s fit to click.