Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Feb. 14. Clinton, who may be eyeing a run in the 2016 presidential election, announced her support for gay marriage March 18.
Months after voters in three states passed marriage equality and those in a fourth defeated a gay-marriage ban, and with the U.S. Supreme Court set to issue multiple rulings on gay marriage later this year, it seems like all eyes are on the issue these days. Multiple public figures — from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — have recently announced their support of the issue, and a new poll by Pew Research has found the largest percentage yet in favor of marriage equality.
Such news is heartening, to be sure. As a member of the Millennial generation, which a March Washington Post-ABC News poll found support for gay marriage at 81%, I could not be more pleased to see the rapid change unfolding around us. But with such a focus on achieving marriage equality, we ignore many of the other problems that LGBTQ individuals face in society.
While the freedom to marry is certainly wonderful, many LGBTQ Americans face problems that one could argue are more vital. Currently, only 21 states and the District of Columbia outlaw employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, with federal legislation that bans discrimination based on gender, race and religion not extending those same protections to gays and lesbians.
The law is even worse when it comes to protecting people with different gender identity or expression, as only 16 states and Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination in that regard. In addition, other necessities like difficult access to health care for some LGBTQ people and the Red Cross’ ban on blood donation by gay men remain in place, even as states across the nation begin the march toward marriage equality.
Part of the focus on gay marriage is certainly political. By choosing to wage the battle for gay rights at the altar, LGBTQ activists have selected an issue that has allowed gays and lesbians to move into the mainstream, just as leaders in the civil rights movement picked their battles carefully before pushing for the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But another reason that gay marriage has spent so long in the limelight is purely because we have allowed it to do so. As poll after poll has shown, the strongest supporters of the gay rights movement are young people, and we have become complacent with merely fighting for marriage equality instead of broadening our scope to many of the other issues affecting LGBTQ people.
As gay marriage becomes legal across more of the country — as it inevitably will, as current support and demographic trends show — the impetus is on the young to maintain the push for LGBTQ rights. A friend from New York, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, recently told me that she was glad that she does not need to worry about gay rights in her state. Yet a quick look at current laws will show that New York does not currently outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression, allowing for the possibility that certain LGBTQ people could face prejudice in employment or housing.
This is exactly the attitude that could slow the momentum built by the gay rights movement in recent years. As same-sex marriage becomes a reality across greater swaths of the nation, it is imperative for gay rights supporters to remember that there is more work to be done.
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