LGBTQ victory shows that mass struggle wins rights

Michigan plaintiffs Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer with their four children at Motor City Pride, June 7.WW photo: Kris Hamel

Michigan plaintiffs Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer with their four children at Motor City Pride, June 7.
WW photo: Kris Hamel

June 26 was a day of huge celebrations. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Laws defining marriage as “between one man and one woman” came down faster than you could pull down a Confederate flag. The traditional fallback position of Southern segregationists — “states’ rights” — collapsed as lawyers for Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee pleaded desperately to be allowed to keep their bigoted laws.

Ironically, it was Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority, who stated that “no longer can this liberty be denied.” Two years earlier, Kennedy had argued against striking down the portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that left defining marriage to the states. Clearly, this historic ruling — like Roe v. Wade, Brown v. the Board of Education, and the upholding of the Wagner Act in the year of the sit-downs — was only achieved through militant mass struggle.

This is more than a shift in social status. Couples like Michigan plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse can finally jointly adopt the four children they have been raising together. With two adopted by Jayne and two by April, one mother would have been a “legal stranger” to two of the children if the other died.

Economically, denying the right to marry amounts to paying workers in same-sex relationships less money — a kind of “two-tier” system. More than 1,000 federal benefits are tied to marriage, from getting a tax break to collecting a deceased spouse’s Social Security or veterans’ benefits. There are benefits at the state level, such as receiving a workers’ compensation payment for a spouse killed on the job. Work-related benefits — health insurance, bereavement pay, family and medical leave, etc. — are tied to marital status, or taxed as income in the case of domestic partner benefits.

The marriage fight was for the basic principle of equal pay for equal work. It is a crude, anti-working class formulation to suggest, as some “radicals” in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer movement do, that demanding the right to marry is “assimilationist.” Anyone with a progressive bone in their body should be celebrating with the happy couples.

The struggle is far from over

The marriage victory shows that struggle brings progress. With much more left to fight for, the ruling has buoyed and energized the LGBTQ movement to fight on.

In 2003, the Supreme Court overturned the 1986 Hardwick decision that upheld Georgia’s “anti-sodomy” law. No longer could two people of the same sex be arrested for a private intimate act. This was a huge victory but in no way ended LGBTQ oppression.

That is still the case, despite winning the right to marry. Only 19 states prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; three others only ban sexual orientation discrimination. There are still no federal civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community. The scenario of “married on Sunday, fired on Monday” is not unrealistic. Imagine celebrating your nuptials on the weekend, and then reporting your new marital status to your boss the next day. This revelation could cost you your job. A married couple moving in together could face housing discrimination. Discrimination in accommodations could sour a honeymoon. Surveys show that this discrimination still goes on.

Right-wing legislators, hatefully attempting to undermine same-sex marriage, are passing misnamed “religious freedom” bills to let businesses and social service agencies discriminate against those who can finally marry.

Anti-trans bigotry is pervasive. Having to check a little box marked “M” or “F” becomes complicated when one’s gender identity is not the same as one’s sex assigned at birth. Most states will not change a birth certificate unless a person has fully completed sex reassignment surgery, and five states will not make the change even then. And what about people who identify as neither male nor female? Checking the box is required in many facets of everyday life: applying for a job, college applications, seeing a doctor, getting a driver’s license, registering to vote — and getting a marriage license.

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 72 percent of hate crimes against LGBTQ people are committed against trans women; 90 percent of those are against trans women of color. Trans women of color are still being murdered — by bigots, by the state and as a consequence of working in the sex industry. They are often victimized a second time by the capitalist media, as in the case of Cemia Dove. After her mutilated body was found in a pool of water, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper disregarded her chosen pronouns, even referring to the deceased body as “it.”

Take a vow to fight racism and capitalism

The burdens of bigotry are compounded by the fact that under capitalism no one is guaranteed housing, health care or an education — let alone a job with vacation or one that even pays enough to afford a honeymoon. Millions of LGBTQ people are struggling to get by. Even with the tax advantages that marriage affords, the court ruling will not lift a single low-wage worker out of poverty, or solve the high unemployment problem in majority African-American cities like Detroit.

A marriage license will not protect a Black gay man from being the next Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin; the child of a Black lesbian could be the next Tamir Rice. Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants — as Jennicet Gutiérrez courageously exposed — are as vulnerable as before.

There is a crisis facing all working-class and oppressed people in this country: the genocidal assault on the African-American nation. We are seeing an exponential spike in police murders; driving, walking and breathing while Black are dangerous activities. The “school-to-prison pipeline” is a new form of enslavement that profits the prison-industrial complex. Foreclosures have depleted the collective wealth of Black people. Attacks on voting rights, life-threatening water shutoffs, gentrification and the list goes on.

But the ruling classes never plan for resistance. They always plan on the oppressed acquiescing to repression and terror. The capitalists haven’t learned from Denmark Vesey, whose church was the site of that horrific massacre in Charleston. People fight back. “Black Lives Matter” isn’t just a statement. It’s a mass movement. It’s a rebellion!

We cannot allow this movement to be isolated. We cannot allow the capitalist class to use racism to keep us all divided and exploited.

Same-sex couples everywhere are saying their vows of love. But would we have come this far, to a victory unimaginable just 10 years ago, without the solidarity of others? If we are committed to real liberation, let us take a solemn vow. We will put our bodies on the line in solidarity with the Black nation, with Latino/a, Asian, Native and Arab people, and with every nation on the planet oppressed by capitalism and imperialism. Until every last vestige of oppression and exploitation is gone: Stonewall means fight back!

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