By Paul Brown
After years of education, advocacy, and legal fights, equal rights advocates won a massive victory: the US Supreme Court ruled on Friday June 26th that states could not deny same-sex marriage any longer. The order was to go into effect immediately, and county clerks in the 14 states holding on to same-sex marriage bans had to start issuing marriage licenses. Cheers and rainbow flags instantly went out across progressive groups. Just as quickly the conservative right denounced the decision with angry shouts.
Finally, gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry and to get all the government benefits associated with marriage such as inheritance rights, custodial rights over children, hospital visitation rights, and insurance benefits. Ultimately, though, this fight was never fully about getting governmental benefits. Gay people live in a heteronormative society where straight people refer to their spouses as their partner whom they love undeniably. Gay people simply wanted the equal ability to do the same. Their bonds of love rival any straight relationship, yet they could not tell the world about their married partners until the Supreme Court made its ruling. Besides love, getting the government benefits is the icing on the cake that represents true equality.
Now gay people can collect their marriage certificate, relax, and stop making so much noise, right? Wrong. Among the shouts of joy and those of derision comes the realization that the country has torn itself nearly in half. Support for same-sex marriage has risen to nearly 60% of the population – an all-time high. Regardless, 40% of the population still stands staunchly against marriage equality. The Supreme Court itself did not vote unanimously for this decision. As with many SCOTUS decisions, the decision came down to a 5 – 4 vote. All four of the dissenting justices wrote responses that decried the decision as baseless in law. Conservative politicians, including presidential contenders, lambasted the decision across the nation. Certain county clerks simply refused to comply at the risk of incurring lawsuits and losing jobs.
Even with winning the marriage battle, the gay community does not necessarily enjoy equal rights in employment and housing opportunities. In many areas, people can be fired or evicted for being gay. At the moment, the gay and lesbian community is in a literal honeymoon period and gobbling up wedding cake, but they know the door to full equality has not completely opened. They will have more marches, produce more Pride Festivals, and increase visibility and education. Much work remains, and they are prepared for it, but for the moment, they are elated to stand in the sun and proudly claim equality.