On Nov. 6, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ban on marriage equality in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Now, before we all stand around singing along to “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and flaunting FCKH8 apparel, it’s important to have a discussion about the direction in which the mainstream movement for marriage equality is going.
I think if you were to walk around Oberlin’s campus and ask people about their thoughts on marriage equality, the issue would have overwhelming — if not complete — support. Before the Sixth Circuit ruling, I was convinced that there was near-universal support for marriage equality. We live in a society that is progressively warming up to accepting queer identities. The Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have been repealed, and in October, the Supreme Court turned away five appeals from states moving to prohibit marriage equality. In the context of such a conservative Supreme Court, which is notorious for ruling that corporations are people and actually striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act, these pro-LGBTQ decisions were very exciting.
However, I have a lot of problems with the marriage equality movement. I’m outraged at Ohio for upholding a ban on the freedom to marry, but I’m also outraged at the mainstream queer movement. The fact is that the mainstream movement — to paraphrase Black Girl Dangerous — is giving more privilege to people who already have all of the privilege in the world. We’re spending so much time making sure that economically privileged, white, cisgender men can get married (which they should indeed be able to) but focusing less energy on the trans people — and especially trans women of color — who face constant abuse and brutality. One relatively well-known example of this is CeCe McDonald, the black trans woman who killed a Minnesota man in an act of self-defense and was sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison. While McDonald has received support from people like actress Laverne Cox, the fact that trans people are not only being convicted of survival crimes but also being put in the wrong gender prison speaks to where we are in this country in regard to LGBTQ rights.
It’s not enough to wave rainbow flags and get tearyeyed in front of a court building when two people who previously couldn’t get married are now able to get married. The movement needs to focus less on making the experiences of queer people more palatable and focus more on the reality that youth are still thrown out on the street based on their gender and sexual identities. While it is truly fantastic that people with marginalized sexual identities are gaining visibility, it makes me upset that so much of this energy is being focused on marriage. Marriage isn’t something that is accessible to a vast group of people not only because it’s illegal, but because they still live in an environment in which coming out is dangerous and couples are frequently harassed simply for “walking while queer.”
In addition, I take issue with the normalization that surrounds the movement. Marriage equality is a very palatable idea to mainstream audiences. It creates an outlook of obliviousness toward sexuality and assumes that straight experiences are the same as queer ones. Marriage should always be an option, but it’s important to realize that marriage shouldn’t be where the conversation about LGBTQ rights ends. Centering this conversation around marriage does more for the benefit of mainstream audiences’ understanding of LGBTQ rights than for the people the laws actually affect.
So wave those flags away, and be mad at Ohio as you should. However, as students and activists, it is imperative that we focus our energy elsewhere.