By Kyle Poulin
“The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.”
In the hearts of many lesbian and gay couples, we have long been committed to each other, but now the United States has shown it is finally committed to our love. The nationwide recognition of marriage equality will redefine the present and future LGBT experience in America. Same-sex couples can now constitutionally share their commitment to each other and the world. These couples and families can plan their dream wedding without the bitter sting of legality tarnishing their big day. Children of these families will be brought up with the equal protection they deserve.
With this victory, we not only celebrate marriage equality and everything it means to us, we bolster our case for equality and protection in other parts of the everyday lives of gay and transgender people: ending discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and housing; making schools safe and inclusive for all students, faculty and staff; and increasing access to healthcare.
As we rejoice with the plaintiff couples, on this day we must thank Massachusetts for being the first to let love win, lighting the torch for other states to carry. We must also thank the many couples who sought marriage and equality in this country without success. Their bravery in standing up and out for what they wanted and believed in was necessary for getting the country where we are today. Their efforts have done for marriage equality what marriage equality must do for the remaining inequalities against gay and transgender Americans.
For instance, gay and transgender people can be turned away from a place of business in 28 states – including Virginia. This must change. A business that is open to one must be open to all. Discrimination is also something we face in housing. In research conducted by Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, same-sex couples received differential treatment 31% of the time when seeking rental housing. Nationally, 1 in 5 transgender people have been refused a home or apartment. And, while most Virginians think it is illegal to fire or not hire somebody because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, sadly this is not the case. Virginia does not have protections for gay or transgender employees. Even though a majority of Fortune 500 companies have policies in place to protect their workers on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, this does not protect all LGBT workers in the 31 states without non-discrimination laws.
We also face discrimination in our schools. While marriage is a milestone for many gay and lesbian adults, many of our LGBTQ youth do not feel safe at school. Nearly 70 percent of students in Virginia schools have experienced verbal harassment based on their sexual orientation and 40 percent have based on their gender expression. When a student feels harassed and they report it to a teacher or administrator, the expectation of action and resolution often falls short. Out of the 59 percent of students who report verbal or physical harassment, only 26 percent said their report resulted in effective intervention. We have a responsibility to protect our youth and provide a safe and nurturing learning environment for them.
What about healthcare? Gay and transgender – especially transgender – individuals in Virginia and throughout the country still face too many challenges in accessing affordable, inclusive, and high quality healthcare. We must ensure that nobody is denied equal access to healthcare because of who they are.
All of these truths are self-evident to us as members of a community plagued with inequality, which is why we cannot stop now. This is time for celebration. And, we must use this historic and monumental moment to revitalize our advocacy efforts. We must all make a vow to rally against these remaining roadblocks on the path to LGBT equality in Virginia for all members of our community. Love won…equality and fairness for all must come next.
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