LGBTQ Equality and Justice Beyond Marriage

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) should be struck down. There's no doubt that it's discriminatory, unconstitutional and impacts LGBTQ communities in ways that are problematic and damaging. This damage is particularly drastic and tangible in the context of immigration, social security, bereavement benefits, and other federal programs that are distributed to LGBTQ people unequally, if at all.

However, while getting caught up in the excitement of what's going on at the Supreme Court, it's important to ask why these benefits and basic rights are tied to marriage at all. It's important to ask why healthcare and federal programs that are ostensibly meant to keep us healthy, safe, and out of poverty are often only fully accessible to those who choose to get married. And if in order to get these benefits, marriage is required, how that requirement marginalizes and disadvantages people who cannot or choose not to get married, in ways that LGBTQ people are currently marginalized and disadvantaged.

My personal opinion is that all people should have the freedom to structure their relationships in whichever way they chose, whether the government is involved or not, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. I also believe, though, that things like healthcare, federal anti-poverty measures, housing, and other forms of economic justice should not be tied to whether or not a person chooses to marry, a position which has been articulated in great detail by scholars like Nancy Polikoff and groups like Beyond Marriage.

While the debate around marriage is an important one, it's also important to recognize that LGBTQ justice is not just, or even primarily, about marriage--especially for those people who are still struggling to have their most basic needs met.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), trans communities in particular experience disproportionately high levels of poverty, homelessness, lack of basic healthcare and unemployment because of systemic discrimination that our current laws, for the most part, do not recognize or protect us from. Trans people all over the country, in every age group, are becoming more visible, and with that visibility, experiencing a backlash against their ability to access accommodations and systems as basic and important as bathrooms, comprehensive healthcare, safe schools, or freedom from over-criminalization and policing. Not to mention, the serious epidemic of murder and assault, particularly against trans women of color, that has gone largely unnoticed by mainstream media. This type of animus is also responsible for the disproportionately high suicide rates among trans youth and adults that exist not just because of bullying in school, but because of pervasive and suffocating everyday discrimination, legally and interpersonally, that seeks to invalidate and undermine what people know to be the most fundamental truths about who they are and how they want to be recognized.

Hopefully DOMA will be struck down. Hopefully we'll be able to wake up to a world soon where at least one federal law that hurts LGBTQ people is no longer on the books.

But in debating what justice and equality for LGBTQ communities looks like, how historic this moment is, and what other historic accomplishments are yet to be had, it's important for us to consciously support all types of relationships (married or not) and all forms of justice, particularly racial and economic justice, within LGBTQ communities.

We also can't forget that there is still an overwhelming number of LGBTQ people whose most basic needs are not being met and who will still need all of the vigorous attention and enthusiasm that marriage equality has received from so many people in the past several months, even if DOMA is struck down.