I write this as both an openly gay man in a stable relationship and the founder of a marriage equality campaign organization known as LoveProudly. Much has been made about the importance of equal marriage and how it is seen as the benchmark of a society that values and respects its LGBT+ citizens as equals. For many gay rights activists the idea of marriage equality being implemented, whether through legislative or judicial action, is seen as the end of the road for gay rights and it is widely held by the outside world as the Holy Grail of equality.
I live in a country (Northern Ireland) which has dragged its heels on equal marriage. However, I still consider the city I live (Belfast) to be a great place to be openly LGBT+. Just because a nation doesn't have marriage equality does not mean the society is homophobic and the reverse is also seldom accurate. Some of the most liberal and progressive countries in the world don't have equal marriage. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic; none of them have marriage equality but you would be hard pressed to claim that they weren't progressive, modern and powerhouses of democratic transparency and academic thinking. All of those countries and more have adopted the United Nations Human Rights Council 2011 resolution on LGBT rights but none of them have equal marriage. Of course it would be unfair to say that these countries don't have politicians and activists with marriage equality for same-sex couples as a goal but not having this doesn't remove the fact that public opinion and general acceptance of LGBT+ communities is better than those that have it.
Yes, equal marriage and state recognition of same-sex relationships massively improves the dignity that LGBT+ people can enjoy and massively helps the public debate when politicians lead from the front on the matter – as has happened in England & Wales, Scotlandm and the Nordic countries. Living in Northern Ireland can be difficult at times when you're LGBT+ but public opinion is massively in favor of equal marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Much like Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia and Slovenia (which rejected same-sex marriage via a national referendum) Northern Irish same-sex couples are able to have their relationships recognized by law through the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act. Similar legislation is in effect in the aforementioned countries. Transgender people, LGB+ individuals, and families headed by same-sex couples enjoy protections in employment, housing, provision of goods & services in those countries and in mine.
The contrary is true in the United States as we can see from the start of this year. Since the beginning of 2016 over 200 anti-LGBT pieces of legislation have been introduced across 32 states. Some have been rammed through in Republican controlled State Houses and signed into law by homophobic Governors. The backlash against the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling in June 2015 that legalized marriage equality across the USA has begun in earnest. "Religious Freedom Bills" that allow bigots to deny LGBT+ people, or those that they "suspect" of being LGBT+, from those protections and freedoms that we enjoy in Northern Ireland, Australia, Germany etc.
It's no doubt that the SCOTUS decision was a fantastic breakthrough for equality. However, dissenting voices in state houses across the US have reflected on it as an attack on the autonomy of states and their independence to make laws on a devolved basis. That kind of close-minded thinking has left the United States as a patchwork of anti-LGBT+ and pro-LGBT+ laws that vary from state, county and city. You can get married to your same-sex partner in Pennsylvania but the following day find yourself evicted from your home, fired (if you work in the private sector) and have no legal case if you are the subject of a hate crime because of your sexuality. You may also be denied the right to adopt a child with your husband or wife if you apply through a private organization. On the other hand in Northern Ireland we can't get married yet we can jointly adopt, we can't be evicted from our homes or be denied service in a restaurant or hospital because of our sexuality. The same is true in Germany, Australia, Switzerland etc.
Marriage equality is not the end of the road, but perhaps in the United States it can be the start.
Punk Out is a proud support of LoveProudly. Let's help bring Marriage Equality into law and pro-LGBT+ politicians into office in Northern Ireland. We urge everyone to show your support for our friends in Northern Ireland by using the hashtag, #voteproudly. Also, follow LoveProudly on Twitter.
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