On Christopher Street in New York City, the Stonewall Inn opened early on the morning of June 26.
At this small, working-class bar in late June 1969, a rebellion against police raids gave rise to the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer movement. Now, 44 years later and 10 years after that movement forced the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw “sodomy” laws that criminalized homosexuality, a crowd gathered waiting for the news.
When it came, the joint erupted in laughter, tears, champagne and balloons.
The high court had just overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to bar federal recognition of same-sex marriage in states where it’s legal. The court also upheld a lower-court ruling invalidating Proposition 8, the right-wing California initiative that banned same-sex marriage in that state.
Across the country, LGBTQ people, allies and supporters celebrated in the streets.
Joy, however, was tempered with rage at the court’s patently divisive intent in issuing the DOMA/Prop 8 ruling one day after gutting the Voting Rights Act.
In San Francisco and New York, many planned to carry signs at the June 30 Pride marches thanking the activists whose decades of struggle forced these rulings.
Before that, in San Francisco on the morning of June 29, couples lined up at City Hall to get married.
Even before that, minutes after the ruling was issued on June 26, deportation proceedings against a Latino immigrant in New York were halted. The man, a Colombian, had filed for a green card based on his marriage to an African-American man. He’d been denied. He was at a hearing, about to be expelled from the country. Now he should be able to stay here with his spouse.
Where ruling falls short
This is the single biggest LGBTQ legal victory ever won, yet it does not go far enough. The court did not order states to permit same-sex marriage. There remains no federal right to marry. The ruling only extended federal recognition to couples in the 13 states and D.C. where anyone can get married. The fight for full and equal marriage rights continues.
The ongoing struggle encompasses much more than marriage. There is no federal civil rights protection for LGBTQ people. Discrimination in housing, education, public accommodation and employment, while illegal in some states and cities, is still the rule, and still legal on the national level. Violence targeting LGBTQ people, much of it at the hands of police, is on the rise. The poverty level among LGBTQ people is higher than in the overall population.
The most oppressed of the LGBTQ communities — people of color, women, trans people, youth — bear the brunt of discrimination, bashings, police brutality and poverty. Lack of access to decent, quality, unbiased health care is endemic. The deep weight of oppression hits hardest at young trans people of color, many of whom are homeless and face endless attacks in this viciously transphobic society. For those struggling just to survive, the latest court ruling will have little effect on their day-to-day lives.
Celebration, then, must be wedded to solidarity. The movement must take up the struggles of, and take leadership from, the most oppressed.
This victory is one step. There is a long road ahead in the quest for liberation. The only way forward is shoulder to shoulder, united.
The enemy of all workers and oppressed people — the capitalist class and its government — understands this principle all too well. The marriage-equality ruling came after a week of horrific court decisions that amounted to a full-scale racist attack on people of color in this country. They culminated on June 25, the day before the marriage decision, with the ruling against the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pillars of the civil rights laws that were won through years of bitter, bloody struggle by African Americans.
Of course it is the LGBTQ movement that brought about the shift in public consciousness that pushed the court to partially concede on marriage. But it seems likely that Chief Justice John Roberts and his reactionary crew also had something else in mind with their final rulings: to pit oppressed groups against each other.
Such a cynical ploy must not succeed. Unity is vital. The LGBTQ movement must stand in unconditional solidarity with the Black, Latino/a and other communities of color in the anti-racist struggle.
On a concrete level, the end of DOMA means legally married same-sex couples will finally have access to more than 1,100 rights and benefits previously available only to straight married couples.
Some of the most important of these will affect workers. For example, employers who provide spousal benefits must now provide them equally to same-sex spouses. Where those benefits were already offered, employers will finally stop reporting the cost of same-sex-spouse benefits as though they were the worker’s income, which artificially ramps up reported income and thus income taxes. Couples may now file joint income tax returns. The Social Security Administration will now recognize same-sex spouses.
For the most privileged, none of this much matters. For those in working-class jobs, and couples with one working and one unemployed or retired spouse, it could mean an improvement in income of thousands of dollars. When one spouse dies, the survivor will now get Social Security benefits.
Still, there won’t be a material benefit for the poorest LGBTQ couples, as there never has been for poor straight people. You must be destitute to qualify for food stamps, Medicaid, any HIV/AIDS services or the scant other federal aid programs that still exist. Since the government looks at married people’s joint holdings and income, if one is poor enough to qualify for benefits but the other has a little something, there’s no benefit to marrying. And why should services and rights be based on coupledom or government recognition of it, anyway?
The fight for free universal health care and for all the demands of the working class and oppressed continues. Ultimately, revolution is the route to full rights and liberation for all.
Socialist revolutionaries hail each accomplishment along the way. DOMA and Prop 8 are in the dustbin, where they belong. Onward, now, to the coming fights.