It’s been a long, rough, and rowdy ride, but it looks like gay marriage will be coming to South Carolina sooner than most of us ever imagined.
Several questions arise here. Is gay marriage really inevitable in South Carolina? When will we know? What will it look like here? I don’t know the answers to these questions. In fact, no one really does. But there are a few things I do know, and a few more questions I’d like those of us who support marriage equality to consider.
One thing I know is that gay marriage is not the end all be all of LGBTQ life. It will not fix the homophobia and transphobia in our homes, churches, and workplaces. It won’t fix the isolation and rejection that often come with being LGBTQ. It won’t fix the myriad ways that LGBTQ people are suffering as a result of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. I wish it could, but it can’t. Gay marriage is not going to make us whole. Only we can do that for ourselves and for each other.
If anything, what gay marriage does is that it allows us to walk through a door that leads our relationships from being illegitimate in the eyes of the state (and, subsequently, in the eyes our families, communities, and even ourselves) to being treated as valid relationships and worthy of the rights and privileges conferred upon heterosexual couples in this country.
Many have asked why this is something we want. Why do we want to be like straight people? Which people are we leaving on the other side of that legitimacy door? Who else deserves the basic rights and protections that marriage confers? After all, we can’t all have the same tax breaks and healthcare deals that married people have. Or can we?
Regardless, gay marriage in South Carolina will be a significant political win for the broader progressive movement. I hope that conservative obstructionists like Attorney General Wilson, Gov. Nikki Haley, and the many elected officials who were part of putting the ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot in 2006 are going to be handed a well-deserved loss on this issue.
All of us know they won’t go down without a ridiculous and nonsensical fight. The right-wing forces in our state will devise new plans to attack the LGBTQ community in other ways. But this time, same-sex marriage opponents will have fewer South Carolinians joining them.
In November 2006, 78 percent of South Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. A Public Policy poll in 2012 showed that 54 percent of South Carolinians support either marriage or civil union for same-sex couples.
Another thing I know is that LGBTQ South Carolinians and our allies are now at a political crossroads. What will we do once marriage is decided? Will we high five each other and head home? What about the other issues that impact our community? What about the high rates of homelessness for LGBTQ youth? What about the high suspension, expulsion, and arrest rates for LGBTQ youth? What about the fact that once we can get married to our partners, we can still get fired from our jobs for being LGBTQ? What about the fact that LGBTQ undocumented people are being detained and deported by the same government that would now recognize our romantic relationships? What about the fact that violence against LGBTQ people is actually on the rise? What about the higher poverty rates that LGBTQ people face?
Of course, we can’t be solely focused on the gay community. What about the people of Ferguson, Mo., who continue to demand justice? What about the nurses at MUSC who have been organizing for better working conditions? What about voting rights? Is gay marriage really so important that it should overshadow any of these other issues?
For years, many in the gay rights movement have demanded visibility for these issues, while many others in our movement seem to have been skirting the question of whether we are fighting for justice or just us.
Now, marriage equality is not a fight I would’ve chosen, but I am as eager as the next person to get it over with, because Ferguson can’t wait, and the MUSC nurses can’t wait, and the undocumented transgender people sitting in solitary confinement can’t wait, and the LGBTQ youth who came out to their parents today and are sleeping outside tonight can’t wait, and the fast-food workers who have bills due yesterday can’t wait. Once marriage comes, LGBTQ South Carolinians and our allies will be asked what is next for our movement. I hope our answer unites us with all of those who are struggling for dignity and fairness here in our state.