North, south, east – no matter what direction Pennsylvanians turn their heads, they’re surrounded by the same-sex marriage debate. Everywhere, that is, except Pennsylvania. What’s the deal?
A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the minds among GLBT student leaders across the state, all of whom were dead-set on creating discussion and pushing progress in a state that, while advancing some issues, remains stagnant on others. The dialogue included points-of-view on safe schools legislation, the ability – or lack thereof – of gay men to donate blood and a focus on preventing further suicides (see: Eric James Borges, most recent gay teen suicide). Certainly, these are all pressing issues that face the GLBT community and require attention, but one conversation amidst it all struck me as a bit odd and frankly, absurd.
That would be the notion that same-sex marriage is a non-issue in the community or, at the very least, less-important of an issue than its innumerable companion conflicts at hand. I’m not here to say that marriage is in fact inherently more important in a practical sense than other GLBT issues, but tactically, there seems to be a general misunderstanding among some of what same-sex marriage actually represents in the GLBT community.
Whether you plan on getting married or plan on being a cat lady for all of eternity, same-sex marriage symbolically embodies the “head of the dragon” in the movement’s fight for equality. Same-sex marriage, it seems, is for better or worse less about the official union of couples, and more about the invaluable role it plays in politics.
Up to this point, the general public has played witness to several noteworthy benchmark achievements in the movement: The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” President Barack Obama’s call to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in courts and a pleasantly surprising surge of support from the public in the past decade for basic but essential GLBT rights.
And though these have all played their own significant political role, nothing creates a more captivating news headline than the addition of another state in the union legalizing same-sex marriage. Why? Because it demonstrates to the remaining skeptics in America that GLBT people are just that: people.
On the surface, GLBT marriage may not hold the moral weight of saving a gay teenager’s life, but it does serve as a means to an end.
For decades, same-sex marriage has been a carrot held on a stick, with the GLBT community being the able-minded and able-bodied horse that – while successfully jumping high enough to nibble chunks off the end of the carrot – has never been able to completely yank it off of the stick. Marriage somehow manages to represent both the chunks and the whole, acting as the bites against the anti-marriage establishment and simultaneously holding the potential to end the entire movement.
Perhaps, if we were to dive back a few decades and alter the mainstream message of the GLBT movement, this would not be the case. However, as things currently stand, marriage is what the average Joe views as the ultimate achievement for GLBT people. Simply put, if you accomplish marriage rights, the rest of the community’s restrictions will follow in being lifted.
This is why I continue to be baffled by Pennsylvania’s unwillingness to confront the subject of same-sex marriage, as if it’s a Thanksgiving dinner conversation no one wants to have. This becomes especially frustrating as our neighbors to the right push through promising same-sex marriage legislation and our friends below the Mason-Dixon Line introduce legislation carefully crafted to push marriage into the realm of possibility for the first time in a Southern state. New York, of course, needs no explanation. And for the sake of this column, we’ll pretend Ohio doesn’t exist.
Whatever form marriage equality eventually comes in, it has firmly solidified its role as the leading issue in the GLBT activist movement, and – from my standpoint – the sooner this is recognized by all, the sooner the fight for full equality will end. If the community is going to stand behind a message, there is no better one than that which presents the public with the realities of GLBT life: the presentation of two committed individuals with nothing but hopes of a simple and fair shot at tackling life with their loved one.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.