We’ve learned a lot of meaningful lessons in the six months after LGBT couples in North Carolina began tying the legal knot. Chief among them — we’re still here. The Carolina blue sky hasn’t fallen. Chicken Little is absolutely safe and sound.
I’m being a bit facetious, sure. But from the screams and tantrums of those opposed to equality for LGBT people, one could have well been led to believe the opening of legal, civil marriage services for same-gender couples was bound to have caused the wrath of God to open up in judgement against the entirety of humanity, resulting in the final end of the world.
They were right in only one respect. The only world ending is that of anti-LGBT bigotry, even as the earth continues spinning along its axis just as it has for billions of years.
The “culture war” over LGBT marriage equality is quickly coming to an end. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up oral arguments in what is widely expected to result in a final, LGBT equality affirming end to more than a decade of marriage ballot initiatives, lawsuits and campaigns.
But what we’re left with are several salient lessons on what this marriage movement and momentum has taught us. In the six months since marriage equality came to the Old North State, here are six things we’d do well to remember and reflect on:
1. We aren’t invisible, we aren’t alone.
The week leading up to a final decision on marriage in North Carolina saw the local and statewide LGBT community pull together in vibrant, visible ways. As TV news crews leered for their piece of the breaking news pie, LGBT people and couples came out in anticipation, expectation and celebration. On Friday of that week, dozens of couples lined up in Greensboro, Raleigh and Asheville shined bright and happy smiles as they filed in offices kept open late for marriage licenses and nuptials.
The following Monday, Charlotte saw dozens of couples doing the same — resulting in the highest number of marriage licenses ever issued in a single day there. In the months since, Mecklenburg County’s register of deeds has estimated more than 640 same-gender marriages in his county, a whopping nearly 30 percent of all marriages performed.
Imagine the sense of community, affirmation and empowerment being felt by those LGBT people watching at home. From closeted teens or adults to those unable to join in the celebration, the ability to see so many smiling LGBT couples finally taking advantage of a legal right once denied to them must have been a powerful experience, indeed. It certainly was a powerful and meaningful day for the many couples and their friends and family. As one person told us for our feature this issue, the feeling from that day hasn’t faded, its awe and inspiration as strong today as it was six months ago.
2. We’re beautifully diverse.
The couples who lined up for marriage licenses across the state represented every portion and segment of our community — white, black, Asian, Latino, young, old, male, female, rich, poor, urban, suburban and rural — proving how beautifully diverse, strong and present our community is. From the smallest of counties to the largest of the state’s biggest metro areas, LGBT families are vibrant, important members of their communities.
3. Families are protected.
Marriage might not be the most important LGBT equality issue on your list of priorities, but it is important. Just ask the couples and families who can now safely say they’re protected in medical decisions, financial hardships and child care. Especially for those families with children, marriage and all the legal benefits and privileges it confers offers safety and peace of mind. Those opposed to marriage for LGBT people often cite the interest and welfare of children. They couldn’t be more right — all children, even children of same-gender couples, deserve the safety and surety of government’s and society’s protection and affirmation of their parents’ relationship.
4. Others need protection, too.
And on the flip side — marriage equality doesn’t offer protections for LGBT people in other areas of life. Marriage equality doesn’t end employment discrimination, health disparities or social, civic or religious challenges and exclusion. It’s important to remember that marriage is not, has not, cannot and must not be the end-all, be-all of our LGBT equality movement.
5. We have more work to do.
As marriage moves across the country, the religious right and other conservatives have picked up new fights. The backlash is palpable, but so, too, is our ability to challenge their continued efforts to discriminate against LGBT people and families. In places like Indiana, the backlash to a so-called “religious freedom” discrimination law has resulted in efforts to re-think, re-tool or completely ditch laws designed to uphold a discriminatory status quo. As a movement, we’ll have to stay vigilant against outright or even surreptitious attempts to re-codify legally sanctioned discrimination.
6. Where do we go from here?
Perhaps less a lesson and more a question of essentials, the last six months has shown our movement has decisions to make — on priority, on investment, on interest. With attention on marriage beginning to fade after more than a decade in the spotlight, we’ll have to figure out ways to better address the needs of those who have gone largely ignored — women, people of color, transgender people, elders. We’ll have to devote equitable resources, time, attention and energy into better advocacy for a fuller, more diverse cross section of our community. : :