Now We Celebrate Marriage Equality: Tomorrow We Fight for More

Keegan O’Brien
Photo: Paul Weiskel

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Keegan O’Brien  Photo: Paul Weiskel

Keegan O’Brien
Photo: Paul Weiskel

By: Keegan O’Brien*/Special to TRT—

I still vividly remember how it felt to be spat on and called a “fag&ot” at fourteen, when I went to my first protest for gay marriage in 2003. I remember how painful and humiliating it felt to find out that over half the country passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in 2004. I remember how enraging it was when my principal defended the a$$holes who bullied me for wearing a pro-gay marriage t-shirt because they “had a right to their opinion.”  [pullquote]Housing and employment discrimination, violence against trans women, homelessness, bullying and suicide, police brutality, incarceration, immigration, poverty, women’s rights—these are just some of the battles we have ahead of us and we can’t depend on Gay Inc. to win them. …Gay marriage is a working class issue that provides essential benefits to couples—black and white, cis and trans—who desperately need them.[/pullquote]

Today I’m glad no one will have to go through that again. If you had told me then that in a little over a decade the Supreme Court would legalize same-sex marriage, I would have said you were crazy. Well, a couple of weeks ago we made history and we made it for one reason: because countless numbers of ordinary people have been organizing, protesting, sitting-in, speaking out, and fighting for years. A turning point was the national equality march in 2009, the first national demonstration for LGBT rights in 15 years that had one simple demand: full federal equality in all matters of the law.

The march was organized by a multi-racial band of working class, grassroots, LGBTQ activists and despite being opposed by all of Gay Inc., and it turned out over 250,000 people. One of the march’s most significant accomplishments was that it successfully brought the fight for marriage equality to a national level. That’s why this moment doesn’t belong to the politicians or Obama, it belongs to us.

Unfortunately, some of my fellow radical LGBTQ activists dismiss this victory as a rich/white/cis issue—but I want to argue they are wrong. Gay marriage is a working class issue that provides essential benefits to couples—black and white, cis and trans—who desperately need them. This struggle has always been about affirming a basic sense of dignity and respect in a society that constantly tries to strip that away from working class people—which is exactly why it has resonated so widely among working class queers. [pullquote]Unfortunately, some of my fellow radical LGBTQ activists dismiss this victory as a rich/white/cis issue—but I want to argue they are wrong. …When all we do is look at our victories in terms of their deficiencies, we miss the fact that winning small fights gives people a taste of their own power, and if history is any indicator, it also has the potential to heighten their confidence to fight for more.[/pullquote]

It’s not irrelevant that same-sex couples can now visit their loved ones in the hospital; it’s not irrelevant that same-sex couples can now gain citizenship; it’s not irrelevant that people can walk around with their heads a little bit higher, or that life will be somewhat easier for LGBT youth. Our fight is still far from over. Housing and employment discrimination, violence against trans women, homelessness, bullying and suicide, police brutality, incarceration, immigration, poverty, women’s rights—these are just some of the battles we have ahead of us and we can’t depend on Gay Inc. to win them. When all we do is look at our victories in terms of their deficiencies, we miss the fact that winning small fights gives people a taste of their own power, and if history is any indicator, it also has the potential to heighten their confidence to fight for more. This gives those of us with a wider ranging vision of liberation more of an opportunity to fight for the world we want to live in, not less. Instead of raining on the people’s moment of celebration, we need to figure out how to insert ourselves to push this struggle forward. If you can’t understand that, then you are missing one of the biggest opportunities we’ve seen in generations. We celebrate today, and keep up the fight tomorrow.

*Keegan O’Brien is a queer socialist activist and writer, and a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Boston. O’Brien is an independent columnist whose work has appeared in The Nation, Electronic Intifada, and SocialistWorker.org. He was also an organizer for the first alternative parade in 2011.

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