Legalized Gay Marriage, But Not Legalized Queer Lives
Last week’s Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage was undeniably a landmark victory for queer rights. Years of petitioning the courts for the same legal protections afforded heterosexual couples finally paid off, but I find myself feeling largely unimpressed. Obergefell v Hodges provides in part,
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Twitterverse extolled #lovewins, but I wonder: is love enough? Will it be enough to fight the battles still to come? More importantly, who will be the recipients of equal protection?
Numerous states sanction varying degrees of discrimination in housing and employment. In March, Utah compromised: they offered protections against discrimination but carved out a religious exemption. Religious organizations can still discriminate on the grounds that it violates their faith. A companion bill grants religious organizations the ability to not celebrate or recognize gay marriages. In Kansas, Governor Brownback used an executive order to remove employment protections for queer people earlier in the year. Employers can now legally discriminate against LGBT individuals. They can get married on one day and the next day face termination for displaying a wedding photo with their same-sex partner. Indiana faced backlash for enacting legislation which prohibits “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.” The new law protects anyone who believes that catering to gay people is against their religion. Indiana’s law was quickly denounced and a boycott was organized. These states are not alone. Most states don’t afford queers protection against discrimination, which merely underscores the fight ahead. There is no full equality under the law for queer people.
Moreover, housing and employment discrimination is but one facet of equality we still have to achieve. Less visible, and less likely to receive mainstream support, are the inequalities in the legal sphere. Queers are still believed to be disproportionately represented at every stage in the criminal justice system, yet the conversation about those affected by this discrimination is but a whisper.
In many states it is illegal to engage in sexual intercourse with anyone below the age of consent, even if both parties are underage. Romeo and Juliet laws provide a legal defense for minors by seeking to reduce or eliminate the repercussions of having consensual sex that is only illegal due to the age of consent. LGBT youth are the exception to Romeo and Juliet laws in many states. Recently in Texas, HB 71, which would have enacted protections for homosexual teens, failed to pass. Queer underage couples are excluded from this protection and can face the legal repercussions of an adult. Not only do they have to contend with the unique experience of coming out, but they have to consider whether their sexual exploration will result in a lifetime of collateral consequences, including the opprobrium of registering as a sex offender.
HIV criminalization is yet another contentious topic. Medical advances over the past decade have successfully diminished the mortality rate from this disease. Ironically, the fear of contagion is more deadly than the disease. Failing to report your status can land you in jail and subject you to sex offender registration. Furthermore, our hookup culture comes with a caveat: police have routinely utilized Grindr to catch gay men or conduct stings in places we frequent. Sadly this is not recent history. The persecution of queer sexuality stretches back decades. Due to the stigmatization of sex, these issues have been ignored by law, and most troublingly by the mainstream gay community.
The problem is mainstream LGBT groups have myopically focused on issues like gay marriage, which scream to the heterosexual society that we are just like you. We want families, marriage, and love. We are taxpayers. Don’t we deserve to love who we choose? Of course we do. The end goal is to seamlessly assimilate into mainstream society. While not an unworthy cause, it results in these LGBT groups ignoring the above iterated issues and further marginalizing queer peoples divergent from the mainstream. Included in this divergence are HIV positive people, trans people, queer sex offenders, and other sexual minorities affected by incarceration. Hopefully now that we have achieved the milestone of gay marriage we can turn to other pressing issues. As of now there is no full equality for queers—especially when it comes to sex. Love may have won last week but discrimination still persists.