Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us from the grave that, “I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Today, we’ve seen that arc bend further than its ever bent before, so to speak. Following years of hard-fought battles by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer/questioning (LGBT) community, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the fundamental rights of all Americans — regardless of their sexuality or gender identity — to access the institution of marriage. Today some 1,138 federal rights and protections granted to married couples will be opened to all couples, heterosexual and otherwise. As someone who identifies as queer, I am heartened to see my fellow Americans supporting my equal rights under the law in increasingly large numbers.
I acknowledge that my generation of LGBT leaders enjoys unprecedented support from our peer group, our institutions of higher education, and many of our families. That said, while I am elated at the provision of rights that gives me the choice of whether to enter into a relationship with another man in the eyes of the state, I may not ever take advantage of that option myself. Why then, one might ask, do I count this day as among the most important in my life? Today is important because it offers the LGBT movement a remarkable occasion to clarify its aims, speak from its values, and evolve.
I’ve written before about the need to support the struggle for same-sex marriage alongside movements for other LGBTQ policy wins — among them immigration reform that respects the human dignity of LGBTQ families, the immediate needs of disproportionately homeless and incarcerated queer youth, and the economic instability facing our community without the support of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). These policy issues are on my mind today as I struggle with how to prioritize my activist and research work in the weeks, months, and years to come. While considering these issues and the ways in which the LGBT movement might envision a "tomorrow" post-marriage equality, I’m struck by an overwhelming realization of how important this moment is for myself, my future career in the progressive movement, and my community. We have a chance, maybe only one chance, to define ourselves and our political orientation as standing for much more than just marriage, about much more than just today’s win. We have the chance to make today a turning point in the history of social change movements.
For years our movement has focused on marriage as an emblem of the American experience, as a fundamental opportunity to build something true with another person. While arguing for same-sex marriage we’ve said again and again that opening up the institution of marriage is imperative to ensuring the mantra of the United States to serve each of its citizens equally under federal law. Central to our movement has been an overriding dedication to the values of self-determination and human dignity — to the access of all individuals to the opportunity to marry. We’ve focused our energy on dominating a discussion of what justice looks like in a tolerant, inclusive America. I want us to realize, though, that these values aren’t fully realized today — that we’ve won the skirmish but not the war.
Acknowledging the self-determination of our LGBT community is a much more expansive project. It requires that we support queer people of color as they combat racial stigmas, that we scrutinize Congress’s comprehensive immigration reform for its allowances to our people, and that we act in solidarity with struggles for basic human rights across our country and across the world.
As someone raised in the progressive movement, I’ve learned that our struggles for respect, dignity, and the future we claim are interconnected — that I won’t be free until I breathe clean air, have access to affordable and inclusive health care, and am able to find meaningful and rewarding work. Today is the most important day in my life because it’s today that we decide whether to ally ourselves with these movements, to see ourselves in new ways, and to link our arms with our entire movement family.
For LGBT Americans, issues of "equality" are more than talking points, lawn signs, or sound bytes. Equality does not just mean the ability to marry the person we love; it means being able to walk down the street with our partners without a fear of being harassed, being able to see our queer youth enter classrooms where their identities are affirmed and their histories taught openly. Substantive equality does not stop at the David’s Bridal registry, it affects each and every moment of our lives — from the ways were speak, are spoken about, and are received. While I will, like you, take today to relish in the win our community has won, the opportunities now available to my movement family, I will also commit in a new and vocal way to engaging in a continuous dialogue on LGBT issues, to hold my elected representatives accountable to the needs of my community, and to build power with LGBT people until my last.
Change is not handed down from on high. It is won.
Erik Lampmann is a senior studying Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law (PPEL) and French at the University of Richmond. He is a summer fellow at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
The ideas expressed on the Haas Institute blog are not necessarily those of UC Berkeley or the Division of Equity & Inclusion, where the Haas Institute website is hosted. They are not official and not of one mind. Thoughts here are those of individual authors. We are committed to academic freedom, free speech and civil liberties.