“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
In the world of non-profit activism in the equality movement, the current strategy is starting to be called into question. If you open the paper, you’ll see any number of states fighting for marriage rights. Though gay marriage is not the only challenge facing the gay community, you might think it is if you look at the checkbook. Some would argue: Do we even really want to get married?
While no one argues that marriage should be off the table, there are questions about the priority it has been given in the equality movement. We should ask ourselves, what would Martin Luther King Jr. have said if he’d been told you can have marriage but everything else is off the table? And it is a good point to consider: When compared to HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, suicide, job training, education, care of the elderly, housing, and employment, marriage seems trivial. If we really want to protect our community, should we not put greater emphasis on getting kids into homes, getting them internships, and getting them into politics? If we put more focus on those issues, wouldn’t we have a wholly different community having a wholly different discussion about equality ten years from now?
Marriage is neither the only nor the biggest challenge facing our community. We have to question if a spouse, a picket fence, and 2.5 kids have to be the measure of a successful gay life. It is important to consider that gay culture is not straight culture. The argument could be made that, in our desperate pursuit for marriage rights, we are forsaking our own identities in an effort to conform to heteronormative traditions. But even where gays are getting married, many couples are negotiating the polygamy of that marriage and creating a new idea of what marriage is.
To put it more broadly, while not all gays even want to get married, nobody wants to be fired, homeless, or dying. So, why all the fuss over marriage? In short, the reason is the 14th Amendment. Within the 14th Amendment is a clause known as the Equal Protection Clause, and that is the gamble. Should the marriage issue make its way to the Supreme Court and if it were to issue a favorable ruling and if that ruling was based on the Equal Protection Clause, the game for all gay rights protections would be effectively won. ENDA, DOMA, housing, adoption, health benefits and others could all potentially be settled with one whack of the gavel. As it stands, there has never been a ruling that would make the Equal Protection Clause apply to sexual orientation. When you consider the broader impact the marriage fight might win, it seems to be a potentially huge payout on a massively expensive wager. It remains to be seen if we think the gamble is worth it, but it is clear at this point that we’re already all in.