Several moves signaled progress for the LGBT community this past week, after a few setbacks. In New York, Gov. David Paterson signed an executive order extending antidiscrimination protections to transgender public employees; in D.C., a Senate committee passed a bill to provide family benefits to gay and lesbian federal civilian employees. Also in D.C., City Council voted in favor of same-sex marriage, which will most likely ensure its enactment. In Houston, voters chose the openly lesbian Annise Parker as mayor in a run-off election.
Following several defeats and setbacks, the events are welcome. The defeat of same-sex marriage in the New York Senate and the stalling of the marriage vote in New Jersey are tough blows, particularly after Maine voters overturned the marriage-equality law passed by their legislature.
The lesson of recent events would seem to be this: Most of mainstream America has progressed to the point of realizing that discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and healthcare is wrong, but they haven’t quite come to accept that denying same-sex couples marriage is just as discriminatory — and damaging.
For many in the sexual-minority community, marriage equality is a touchy subject — for both supporters and detractors. Some see the institution of marriage as the realm of heterosexuals, and something they can keep. Others see marriage as the holy grail, the full realization of equality in mainstream society.
Only it isn’t.
In truth, full equality encompasses many rights and protections that “marriage” — and the 1,168 accompanying rights — doesn’t even cover. That’s not to say that marriage isn’t important to fight for, but it’s not the only issue. It’s certainly one to discuss with family, friends and acquaintances (there’s your Christmas dinner conversation!), and an opportunity to convey why the LGBT community deserves the right.
But gaining the right to marry isn’t going to gain employment protections for sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Marriage isn’t going to assure that LGBTs have protection in housing and accommodations. Marriage isn’t going to allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the armed services.
Fighting for marriage is important, as it demonstrates the stability of same-sex couples and their contribution to society (taxes, gentrification, creativity). But the community must keep fighting for across-the-board protections as well. It may even be time to let marriage sit on the back burner and simmer for a bit.