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Opinion

A watershed moment - and more work to do

Prop 8 and DOMA present the Supreme Court with an opportunity to affirm "our liberty, equality and human dignity".

Last Modified: 31 Mar 2013 10:32
Rea Carey

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is one of the most prominent leaders in the US lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement.
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Loving couples who have made a lifelong commitment to each other, who have been together for decades, who have stood by each other in sickness and in health, are being treated as strangers in the eyes of their own government [EPA]

On March 26, I stood with thousands of other supporters of the freedom to marry on the steps of the United States Supreme Court - and on the threshold of history - as the highest court in the land considered one of the most defining civil rights issues of our time: marriage equality. 

Supreme Court justices heard arguments in two landmark marriage cases in late March: one challenging the Proposition 8 statewide marriage ban in California, and the other challenging the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA), which unfairly excludes same-sex couples who are legally married from over 1,100 federal protections and responsibilities that the government provides to other married couples - like Social Security, veterans' benefits and fair treatment in taxation, health insurance and retirement savings.

From across the country, people descended upon the court to join in this watershed moment, and to share a simple yet profound message: Treat all families fairly.

The hopeful faces at the Supreme Court this week - and at more than 150 related rallies and vigils held in every state in the nation - spoke of just how deeply marriage equality touches our hearts, and of how dramatically it affects our families.

Things are changing

The Proposition 8 and DOMA cases present the Supreme Court with a monumental opportunity to affirm our common humanity and our Constitution's promise of liberty, equality and human dignity.

That's the bottom line here. Loving, committed same-sex couples simply want to be treated fairly, and to be able to provide for and protect our families, just as everyone else does.

Yet Proposition 8 and DOMA make this impossible. Loving couples who have made a lifelong commitment to each other, who have been together for decades, who have stood by each other in sickness and in health, are being treated as strangers in the eyes of their own government. This causes profound and undue hardship for thousands and thousands of families. It is unconscionable, and as lower courts have deemed, unconstitutional.  

But things are changing. 

Each step of the journey that brought us to the Supreme Court - and to the brink of history - has been filled with hope and courage, with changing hearts and minds. 

All across nation, people are having personal and poignant conversations about who they are and who they love. We talk about why fairness matters, and of how discrimination hurts our families. The transformative nature of talking about our love and our lives is clear, as we see in the fact that a solid majority of Americans, from every background and walk of life, now supports the freedom to marry. 

 Corporate giants oppose Defense of Marriage Act

This momentum for the freedom to marry is undeniable, with America once again poised to demonstrate its core values of fairness and freedom. 

And yet, even when we do achieve full marriage equality (which we will), our journey will not be over. 

Though we are making extraordinary progress on marriage equality, the fact remains that just nine states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex couples to marry. Three times as many states have constitutional amendments banning the freedom to marry.

And in 29 states, it remains legal to fire someone because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual; in 34 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender. Even in some of the states where we have marriage equality, we still do not have full non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. 

Think about it. Thousands of couples travel to places like New York, Maine, Maryland and the other places where marriage for same-sex couples is legal. Their friends and families will surround them. They will have the wedding of their dreams, they will return home excited and, like our straight friends, they will put a picture of their spouse on their desk - and some of them will get fired. They will get fired simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And it is perfectly legal to do so.

More work to do 

Think of that, and of the recent voter-suppression efforts, and of the violence committed against LGBT people, and of the pervasive immigration discrimination, and of the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS, when someone questions whether we still have work to do - and of whether our journey is over.

It is not. In this watershed moment, in the midst of all the excitement around the gains in support for marriage equality, we must remember this: it is not enough unless our entire family can experience full freedom, full equality and full justice.

It is not enough for parents who send their child off to school each day worried if he or she will return home with a black eye, a broken rib, a crushed self-esteem, or worse. It is not enough, when many of us believe we are safe, but only because we have the economic privilege to move to a safer city or neighbourhood.

That is not freedom. We will never be whole, we will never be free, until every single one of us feels safe to express ourselves as our full selves and finds support in our homes, places of worship and workplaces.

So, even as we celebrate our wins, we cannot ease up a single moment on pushing for change. If we are to be truly transformational as a movement, we must use this watershed moment to not only benefit LGBT people, but also the country as a whole.

As President Obama eloquently stated during his second inaugural address:

"Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity. … That is our generation's task - to make these words, these rights, these values - of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - real for every American."

We couldn't agree more.

No, the journey is not yet over, but we can get there if we work together - and stand together - for our common humanity.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is one of the most prominent leaders in the US lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement. 

Follow her on Twitter: @rea_carey

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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