1/4 of young homeless people in Britain identify as LGBT. Bisexual women in the US are twice as likely to have experienced rape as straight women. 88% of transgender people in the UK experience workplace harassment and discrimination. All these problems exist in our back yard – never mind Uganda or Iran – and the LGBT community has a responsibility to fight those problems particularly when they affect LGBT youth. So in comparison I can understand why some LGBT people, particularly those who have experienced these problems, find the media circus around gay marriage irritating. It is even seen as being deliberately unhelpful as it draws attention away from other problems. However many of these people have taken to tumblr and other social media to present this as an either/or situation and dismiss the fight for gay marriage entirely in favour of their favourite, bigger issues.
The continuing discussion and furore about gay marriage has kept LGBT issues at the forefront of the US and UK political agenda. The news coverage has disseminated the debates across the world to people who would not normally engage with LGBT issues. It has given a large number of LGBT people a voice that would not otherwise be heard. The prominence of the issue has also exposed unlikely allies like Clint Eastwood, the Archbishop of Wales and several Republicans. In part because of the gay marriage debate, people are forced to acknowledge the existence of gay people and allies who are like them. After all, even the presenters on BBC Radio 4 are LGBT. As people are forced to publicly examine their own feelings on the issue knee-jerk reactions will be set aside; minds can be changed and opened. The gay marriage debate will also give children and teens a platform for discussions with their parents and give them a wider context for coming out.
The gay marriage debate has also helped to ‘normalise’ homosexuality for many families and may well lead to fewer LGBT children on the street. Rightly or wrongly parents usually want traditional things for their children. Parents look forward to weddings and grandchildren and for many those things are not seen as compatible with an LGBT ‘lifestyle’ as they have experienced it through the media. Into the ‘90s and even more recently, negative stereotypes and the media focus on scandals have collated LGBT relationships with abuse, anonymous sex and AIDS which makes it difficult for those who don’t know any better to be accepting. Wanting to get married brings the LGBT community into a world they can understand because the ‘lifestyle’ now has the potential to follow a more traditional pattern. Of course not every LGBT person wants to marry and nor should they. We must embrace those who choose to reject the current social norms which have shunned and excluded them for so long as well as those who want to conform. What the fight for gay marriage can do is to show that relationship and lifestyle choices are not a matter of gay or straight or trans or cis but about who an individual is and their choices.
Wider access to gay marriage can also help another group of homeless people. There are a number of older gay people who become homeless as a result of improperly organised inheritance rules. If one half of a unmarried gay couple dies, even if they have been cohabiting long term, the remaining person doesn’t necessarily automatically inherit the house and even if they do they are liable for estate tax in the US. Gay marriage would help to clear up the legal responsibilities and provide peace of mind for people in this situation. It would also clear up a number of other legal issues related to medical insurance, hospital visitation and tax issues. Gay marriage isn’t just a point of principle, it will help real people.
Beyond the ideological issues, there is a problem of practicalities. Gay marriage is a comparatively easy win. There is an established legislative process that can be followed in order to make gay marriage happen. The possible routes to success are easy to see when the government can pass a law to make it so. This is not the case for homelessness which is a far more complex issue that needs collective introspection and an honest critique of our society and benefits system. It is also much more long term. While we do need to help as many people as we can there is also a benefit to helping change what we can. Gay marriage is on the brink in the US and a concerted push now could make equal rights under that area of law a reality in the next few years and change peoples’ lives for the better.
We can’t think in terms of a hierarchy of equalities. Every victory gained is important if it makes the world better for even one person. Gay marriage is not equality for equality’s sake. Every step toward true equality is worth celebrating.
A Selection on Gay Marriage – some more positive than toehrs
- French Gay Marriage Opponents Demonstrate In Paris (huffingtonpost.com)
- LGBT Catholic Calls for Prayers for the Passage of Gay Marriage in IL (lezgetreal.com)
- Bethlehem mayoral hopeful pledges support for LGBT communities (blogs.mcall.com)