Why ‘gay marriage’ isn’t as important as people think

Patrick and Jason Kennedy-Whann kiss after getting married in a mass wedding at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach, Fla. The courthouse opened its doors at 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2015 to begin processing marriage applications from same-sex couples. Carline Jean / Sun Sentinel / TNS

I came out to my parents when I was 12. I’m pretty sure they thought it was a phase at first — because, really, who knows that they’re queer when they’re not even a teenager? But they were supportive, assured me that they loved me no matter what and moved on with their lives. Despite growing up in Berkeley, Calif., I was very selective as to who I told about my sexuality — regardless of where you live, middle school and high school kids can be vicious. Until college, I could count on two hands the number of people who knew I was bisexual. Once I got to Tufts however, I practically started shouting it from the rooftops (actually, I think I did shout it off the roof of Tisch one night). I started going to the Bi/Pan group at the LGBT Center, got active in LGBTQ rights and came out very publicly on Facebook on National Coming Out Day in 2013. Throughout all of this, I’ve grown increasingly concerned as I’ve watched the LGBTQ rights dialogue be pigeonholed into the following phrases:

“I totally support gay rights!”

“Gay marriage should be legal everywhere!”

“I give ‘X amount’ to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) every month!” (My personal favorite).

Let me start by saying that none of these are bad things. LGBTQ rights legislation is something that is desperately lacking in this country; marriage equality should be legal across the United States and the world, and the HRC does some good things. But doing that and saying things such as those listed above is pretty much the bare minimum of what you could be doing.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m absolutely thrilled every time another state’s law prohibiting marriage equality is overturned. It’s one more state where being queer will (hopefully) become more normalized and accepted. One more state where LGBTQ couples will be able to legally share their love for their partners. One more state where I would be able to live and not worry about what would happen to my partner after I died. But, that’s pretty much all it means.

So why don’t I care more? It’s one step closer to gay people being accepted, yay!

Because, truth be told, it’s not. Sure, the LGBTQ community will have marginally more freedom in that state, but there’s still a lot to be done. In many states in my home country, a country that I love, a country that I want to help lead one day, my friends and I can still be very harshly discriminated against.

There are only 18 states with laws banning public and private workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (21 states have laws banning discrimination based only on sexual orientation). This means that the majority of LGBTQ individuals in this country can be fired because their boss doesn’t agree with their “lifestyle choices,” despite their actual work ethic or abilities. Fourteen states have obstacles or outright bans on LBGTQ adoption. Currently, there are more LGBTQ couples looking to adopt than there are children in the foster care system. Add that to the fact that LGBTQ couples are more likely to adopt older or disabled children; states are depriving children of a happy, healthy and supportive home environment because their law makers believe that LGBTQ people are inherently wrong and sinful. Only 14 states have hate crimes legislation that address sexual orientation and gender identity. That number goes up to 29 if you exclude hate based on gender identity as a crime. Nine states have legislation facilitating trans* people to change their gender on their driver’s license or birth certificate (22 states facilitate one or the other, but not both). I could add to this list all day long.

My point is that “gay rights” is more than just “gay marriage.” It’s my ability to work, live and love in any city, county and state in the country without having to worry about how the laws there will dictate what I can and cannot do. It’s that my friends, whether straight-passing or genderqueer or flamboyantly gay, can live their lives as they please without looking over their shoulders everyday, wondering if they’ll be fired, or denied a child or worse, all based on who and how they love and express themselves. This isn’t to place the blame on every straight person out there — far from it. The media, the Democratic National Committee, NGOs (like the HRC!) and the government as a whole are to blame for these issues. Instead of framing the fight as the LGBTQ community being discriminated against in a vast number of ways (and isn’t marriage equality just the most ridiculous?), these issues have been pushed to the back burner, and we have been told that it isn’t the right time to push for our rights and freedoms.

So, yes, 37 states now have some form of marriage equality. Yay! Great! Fantastic! But “gay marriage” is not the be-all end-all of the LGBTQ rights movement, and I’m tired of the rest of the country thinking it is.