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Put a Ring on It?

The LGBTQ+ Movement Beyond Marriage Equality

The Feminist Closet

When I was a little girl, I was thrilled by the concept of marriage. Inspired by the Disney and Barbie movies I watched over and over, I daydreamed of being swept off my feet by Mr. Right and walking down the aisle in a poofy dress. In the years since, my views on why I want to get married, when I want to get married, and who I want to marry have changed. But, I’m still pretty sure that I do indeed want to get married.

Which is part of the reason why June 26, 2015 was a life-changing day for me. As a queer woman who’s considering marrying another woman, the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality opened doors for me. And beyond guaranteeing the right to marriage, the Supreme Court ruling made national news, increasing visibility of LGBTQ+ people and issues. One study showed that the passage of marriage equality in individual states led to a decrease in the overall teen suicide attempt rate and an even greater decrease among the lesbian, gay, and bisexual teen populations in those states. Marriage equality has had a quantifiable positive effect, even on populations not immediately affected by the ruling. Clearly, it’s an important step forward.

Before I continue, I want to point out that I am speaking from a privileged position because I’ve never been seriously concerned about the logistics of marriage. Marriage equality came about when I was only 16. Unlike many before me, I won’t have to move to live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, and I won’t have to worry about whether my marriage will still be recognized if I move to a different state. Because of the efforts of the movement that began decades before I was born, if I do decide to marry, the process will be a lot smoother than it was in 2014.

Having discussed all the wonderful parts about marriage equality, it’s important to realize that marriage isn’t the end-all-be-all of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. It never was, it never will be, and any suggestion that it is is naive at best and detrimental to the movement at worst.

Unpacking the institution of marriage reveals its roots in heteronormativity and sexism. The history of marriage includes traditions of women being passed around like property from their fathers to husbands. Even seemingly sweet gestures, like the groom asking the bride’s father for her hand in marriage or the father walking the bride down the aisle while the groom stands alone and independent, all reinforce women’s dependence on men while men remain independent and authoritative.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy watching “Say Yes to the Dress” as much as the next person, but I recognize that the emphasis on the bride’s dress stems from the stereotype that women are inherently more interested in clothing and appearances. Even small details like the bride becoming a Mrs. while the groom remains a Mr. his entire adult life subtly remind us that a woman’s status is based on her relationship to a man. Although many people are slowly moving away from this model and trying to make the marriage process more equal, the marriage traditions that we grew up with and still see today covertly and overtly reinforce strict binary gender norms in heterosexual relationships.

There’s nothing wrong with queer couples wanting to get married—in fact, it’s great to see the queering of traditional notions of marriage. But, marketing marriage equality as the most important goal for the LGBTQ+ movement implies that the most important people in the movement are monogamous gay couples looking to get married. This ignores queer people who don’t want to get married. Moreover, this overemphasis on marriage plays into respectability politics, in which queer people feel pressured to mimic heterosexual norms to make queerness more palatable to the rest of society. It adds to the idea that there’s a “right” kind of way to be queer, which is to settle down into a monogamous marriage and eventually get married and have kids. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that life path, it’s one of many and should not be idealized.

The myth of marriage being the “one” queer issue perpetuates the idea that our community can only focus on one issue at once. This ignores other pressing concerns, such as workplace and housing discrimination; violence against trans people (specifically trans women of color and queer homeless youth); bathroom access for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people; and a lack of accurate representation in media. There are also concerns that some may not see as directly queer, but which matter to the LGBTQ+ movement because of the intersectional identities of members of our community. These include income inequality, police brutality, mass incarceration, immigration, sexual assault, and more. We must be as fervent in addressing these issues as we were in fighting for marriage equality.

So, it’s totally fine to celebrate this June the passing of a landmark Supreme Court case that has helped advance LGBTQ+ rights. But, after you tweet out #lovewins and add the rainbow filter to your profile picture, think about the rights and protections that we still need to fight for. What can you do to help? And, long after your tweet has stopped racking up likes and you’ve removed the rainbow filter, think of the people who are marginalized even within queer spaces. How can you support them? There’s always more to be done.

Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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