Marriage is won, but we’re not done

Editor's Note

Check out our full Oct. 24-Nov. 6 print edition commemorating the historic moments as marriage equality came to North Carolina.

gay rights“Marriage equality won’t end all of the oppression, discrimination, prejudice and bigotry forced upon our community. The same right-wing groups that so passionately opposed marriage equality will choose to engage on other issues. Indeed, they already have — most notably in their efforts attacking transgender people and trans-inclusive non-discrimination efforts.

“What’s next? Where will this movement go? How will we address so many issues left on the sidelines as the bulk of our movement’s dollars and resources were mobilized for marriage?”

That’s what I wrote in an online commentary (“The marriage fight is effectively over. So what’s next?”, goqnotes.com/31569/) the morning after the U.S. Supreme Court set into motion a dizzying whirlwind of legal movements eventually bringing marriage equality to North Carolina.

Two incidents reminded me of that commentary and its questions.

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A full week after the Supreme Court’s decision to take no action on several LGBT marriage amendment cases, the first full day of marriage equality in North Carolina became a reality. Couples lined up early at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office for their marriage licenses and half decided to marry right there on the spot. Among them was a couple who respectfully asked media not to photograph or record their ceremony. One of the spouses-to-be wasn’t out at work and feared losing her job.

Days later, Albemarle’s The Stanly News & Press reported on the first legally-wed, same-gender couple in that county. The editor preceded the story with the following note:

“Although the names of the same-sex couple referenced in this story are public record and their wedding was performed in a public place, The Stanly News & Press chose not to identify the names of the wedded couple per their request because of their concern for retaliation.”

Five paragraphs into the story, we also learn: “The couple asked that their identities be concealed, since their families had not been informed of the wedding. Neither did they want to cause controversy for one of the wedded partners at her place of employment.”

For some couples across this state — and 28 others — the joy of their recent nuptials might very well be short lived.

Married today. Fired tomorrow.

The plan to fix that? I haven’t really heard one.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, pending legislation which would protect all LGBT workers from workplace discrimination, has been introduced in all but one session of Congress for 20 years. It’s literally gone nowhere and seems to have no hope of passing. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not three or six months from now. A year or two? I honestly can’t tell you. I doubt LGBT advocacy groups and activists can either.

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The LGBT advocates I know are deeply aware of the problem and want to see it addressed.

“I wish we could make employment non-discrimination as sexy an issue as marriage,” one told me recently, hinting at the public’s — and our own community’s — demonstrated inability to treat employment non-discrimination with the same kind of emotional and activist fervor as marriage.

Here at home, groups like Equality North Carolina want desperately to highlight the issue. Last month, along with local leaders with the Human Rights Campaign, they worked diligently to challenge the anti-gay employment views of Charlotte’s U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger. Previously this year, they’ve spoken out against Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision to leave LGBT workers out of his own executive order on workplace non-discrimination. They also highlighted larger issues of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations when state lawmakers considered non-discrimination protections for charter school students earlier this year.

But, none of those instances of advocacy nor any of Equality North Carolina’s ongoing work highlighting discrimination have ever received as much attention as marriage.

I don’t know the answer. I honestly cannot tell you how we make our community more interested in and devoted to these issues. The problem vexes the mind, especially when one stops to consider that so many people — far more, I’m sure, than the numbers of those who seek to wed — are affected by discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and elsewhere.

All I know is that we have work to do. Today. Right now. And, we can’t wait. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

One Reply to “Marriage is won, but we’re not done”

  1. Though it’s not the most pressing issue, I think the lifting the outdated and fear-based gay donation blood ban is a very winnable issue since it’s more of an administrative fix, and one that just requires raising awareness around. It will help save lives. I’d like to see it thrown into the mix more about conversations of what LGBTQ equality struggles are still on the table.

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