Speaking of Women's Rights: Why the Movement for LGBT Justice Means So Much More than Marriage Equality…

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why the Movement for LGBT Justice Means So Much More than Marriage Equality…

by Darcy Kues

As Megan beautifully said in our last Legal Voice blog post, same-sex couples won a great victory last week when the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Justice Kennedy wrote powerfully about the disparaging effect of DOMA on couples that States seek to protect and treat with dignity. The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor does have far-reaching effects; for example, the fall of DOMA (Section 3, at least) removes a critical barrier to binational couples seeking to live together without fear of separation in the United States. (In fact, a New York City immigration judge stopped a removal proceeding moments after hearing the news on DOMA’s unconstitutionality.)

And yet, we must recognize that the movement for justice for queer folks does not end with marriage equality. Although marriage is an important institution for many people regardless of sexual orientation and therefore should be accessible to every adult citizen in America, it is not enough. It is not nearly enough to fight for marriage equality without fighting against injustice on every front.

Queer people in America face significant barriers to access to health, access to education, and access to justice. Young LGBT people (especially those that are bisexual or transgender) are disproportionately represented in homeless populations, due at least in part to hostility or exclusion from their families. Young queer people are also disproportionately under the care of the state, either in foster care or juvenile justice facilities, and many states have no policies in place to protect young people under their care from harassment or discriminatory treatment by staff or other youth. Queer people are overrepresented in prison populations, and face severe harassment while incarcerated (from both staff and other prisoners). For many queer people, health care is not only inaccessible because of cost, but also because of the harassment and judgment they face when attempting to receive critical health care. Young LGBT people still face harassment and violence at school, and often receive education that further stigmatizes their own identities if it doesn’t ignore them altogether. In New York City, many transgender women of color are being arrested for prostitution simply because they are transgender and condoms are found in their bags when police search them. Many trans folks cannot even go to the restroom in public with experiencing discrimination and harassment; let’s not forget that just this past Spring an Arizonan legislator introduced a bill in the Arizona state legislature that would made using the bathroom in accordance to your gender identity/expression a crime.

Marriage does not solve these issues. We should be proud that another discriminatory law is off the books; we should celebrate this victory, but we should not become complacent or satisfied until everyone receives full protection under the law and everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
Just as loudly as we celebrated the fall of DOMA, we should have protested the Supreme Court’s dismantlement of the Voting Rights Act and its weakening of Title VII. Thanks to the Court’s decision in Vance v. Ball State University, now it will be even harder for women and LGBT folks to bring a successful employment discrimination claim.

The fight for LGBT justice means mobilization against injustice on all fronts; in order to truly break down barriers for queer people in America, we must commit to breaking down barriers for people of color, people with disabilities, women and feminine-identified folks, immigrants, working class people, people experiencing poverty and/or homelessness, and young people. One identity does not live in isolation to others, and we all have wonderfully complex identities that uniquely position us in American society.

As Audre Lorde once said, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” In other words, LGBT rights are women’s rights. And, until we all work together to dismantle systems of injustice for all communities and for all people, none of us will ever truly be free. 

Darcy Kues is a third year law student at University of Washington School of Law and is currently interning with the New York Legal Assistance Group LGBT Law Project in New York City. She interned with Legal Voice in Spring 2013, where she researched the potential implications of the overturning of DOMA, as well as information on emergency contraception availability and issues of standing in the Supreme Court marriage cases. She is so thankful for everything she learned at Legal Voice, and is excited to take the knowledge she gained and apply it to her future work in legal advocacy for LGBTQ folks.