With the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals on same-sex marriage bans in various states, including Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin, the number of states allowing same-sex marriage could rise to 30. Although the Supreme Court wavered on directly handling the issue of same-sex marriage, this move is not unprecedented. The Supreme Court did not rule on interracial marriages until 1967, when a significant number of states had already legalized it. Perhaps in a similar manner, the Supreme Court is waiting for people to morally and states to legally validate same-sex marriage before federal intervention, allowing for a steadily built-up resolution to the same-sex marriage debate.
In the 1970s, activists fought criminalization of consensual sex between same-sex individuals and promoted legislation to end discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation both in public places and in employment. In the 1980s, activists began to focus on the legalization of same-sex marriage, and now that 70 percent of people ages 18-29 support same-sex marriage, it is only a matter of time until same-sex marriage will be legalized across all 50 states.
While this non-ruling by the Supreme Court is a tremendously important step in increasing equality for same-sex couples, it is only that — a step in a long and arduous process. In addition to legalizing gay marriage, there is a continued need to fight stigma toward gay people. According to a 2010 Gallup Poll, 43 percent of the American population still thinks that gay and lesbian relationships are morally unsound. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control’s website states that gay individuals who are rejected for their sexuality by those around them are 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide and 5.9 times more likely to experience high levels of depression. Furthermore, even with the same-sex marriage ruling, federal policy continues to discriminate against gay individuals. The Food and Drug Administration, for instance, continues to prohibit blood donations from men who have had sex with other men, despite calls from the American Red Cross to establish policies for accepting such donations.
This decision will surely propel both pro- and anti-same-sex marriage groups to rally support, but media outlets and activist organizations should continue to give attention to other important gay rights issues. Gay rights activists should continue their efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, but as a society as a whole, we must work to change federal policies and to address social stigma, which systematically and personally affect the LGBTQ community. Gay marriage may be a victory for some in the short term, but we cannot forget the wider trajectory of oppression against those who identify as “queer” in our society and the work that must be done to end it.