For Better, For Worse
This has been a big year for Marriage Equality. The dominos have been falling with regularity, and a recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to let stand five appellate rulings cleared the way for marriage in five states, and cleared the way for marriage in several states within the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Indeed, marriage licenses for same-sex couples are now – as of this writing – available in 30 states. Polls have shown, too, that the majority of people have approved of same-sex marriage since 2011 or so. Fox News has challenged long-time anti-gay and anti-trans crusader Tony Perkins on his claims against same-sex marriage. The GOP has removed same-sex marriage as a platform issue. It is quickly becoming a non-issue for much of the country.
In 1992, the marriage battle in the United States was in its infancy. It would be another year before the United States Supreme Court would rule that Hawaii’s state statute against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional unless the state could show a “compelling state interest” for such a ban. It would be four years before President Bill Clinton (below, right) would sign the Defense of Marriage Act into law.
That was the year I got married. It was not then a same-sex marriage, but it clearly is now. For those of us who are transgender, the issue of marriage is a bit muddier.
In 1999, one of the first cases involving a “same-sex” marriage went through the Texas Court of Appeals. That case, Littleton v. Prange, involved a transgender woman and her then-deceased male spouse, with the court invalidating her marriage. They decided then that sex is determined at birth and doesn’t change. It wasn’t until this year that a separate appeals court in Texas noted that state laws have changed and now recognized gender reassignment as valid.
So as a married transgender woman, I am pleased as punch to see marriage equality quickly becoming a done deal across so much of the United States. I’m sure that there will be pockets of resistance for a long time yet, but I think even the staunchest anti-marriage activists see the writing on the wall.
There’s more to my feelings on the marriage issue, though, and this is where I might surprise people. You see, even with my own marriage being potentially in legal peril during the era of California’s Proposition 22 and Proposition 8, I question how we ended up with marriage as such a large part of the LGBT communities struggle for equality.
With the victories of recent weeks on our minds, this really is a good time to access where we put our resources. With the potential of less time, attention, and money being given to the marriage issue, I might suggest some other issues that could use the attention of those looking to remain involved in the fight for LGBT rights.
Of course, my list will be very transgender-focused. I’ll be clear: these are issues that affect those I care about. I am biased. That said, I think these are issues that should concern us all.
What’s more, while resources can sometimes be limited, rights are not a finite resource. Just because one group has them does not mean another will not – no matter what some amongst the religious right might think.
Transgender people are still being killed with alarming frequency. With Transgender Day of Remembrance just around the corner, I have to wonder how much even a fraction of the money raised to fight for marriage equality could be used to save transgender lives and prevent anti-transgender violence.
It would also make sense to me to work on issues of racial equality and visibility within the community, and help people of color. The vast majority of anti-transgender murders are young African-American transgender women, and it would only make sense to me to put resources in the hands of those most in need of them.
Or perhaps it could be used to combat suicide. An American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law study showed that 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide. That’s nine times the National average. The numbers are better for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals, but still beat the national average.
It is hard to say, “until death do us part” when we’re still dying so often.
I should note too that 69% of transgender people who are homeless attempt suicide. The money spent fighting the marriage battle could do a lot to address issues with homelessness in both the transgender and larger LGBT community.
With the marriage battle winding down – as it seems to be – perhaps we can see our organizations fighting these and other battles. Bisexuals, too, are often overlooked in the larger community.
Of course, just because it is winding down doesn’t mean it is over. There are still 20 more states to go, and some of them are going to be uphill battles, no doubt. There could still be a Supreme Court challenge in the future. Until it’s finally decided across the whole nation, it will still be an issue.
Still, this is a time when we can reflect and consider what is next. The battle for marriage equality is by no means the end of our struggles, no more than the overturning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was our last battlefield. Heck, transgender people cannot serve openly regardless of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
So this to me is a dialogue I think our community and its organizations need to have, now. We need to consider carefully what is next, and where we move now as we reach beyond same-sex marriage.
By Gwen Smith