warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Stop Talking About Marriage Equality

Christian Patterson |
December 18, 2013 | 4:35 p.m. PST

Deputy Opinion Editor

There's more than just marriage (Benson Kua, Creative Commons)
There's more than just marriage (Benson Kua, Creative Commons)
Marriage equality is important, but we need to stop talking about it. At least for a little while.

The issue has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room and overshadowed issues that are significantly more important to the well-being of large parts of the LGBTQ community.

There are millions of people who identify as LGBTQ for whom an inability to obtain a marriage license is not the most pressing concern, and the laser-like focus on matrimony as the cause célèbre of the LGBTQ community has left many people behind.

There are a myriad of issues that affect different cross-sections of the queer community that never make the headlines of major news outlets or that most people have never been exposed to.

Most Americans don’t know for example that the poverty rate for lesbian couples is significantly higher than the rate for heterosexual couples, and that the gap between lesbians and gay male couples is even greater. This disparity has very little to do with discrimination based on sexual orientation. After all, gay male couples do even better than heterosexual couples by this metric. The difference exists because of the pay gap that exist between men and women. If women make less than men, then obviously a pairing of two women will have the lowest earning potential of the above combinations.

White women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same amount of work.  Black women make 70 cents. Latina women make 64. And Asian women make 12 percent less than white men do.  It is only logical that a lesbian Latina couple might value the right to file joint tax returns a little less than ensuring they no longer earn $1.28 for work that a male couple would earn $2.00 for.

The same can be said for thousands of LGBTQ youth. While they make up only 5 to 7 percent of all adolescents, they are 45 percent of the young people living without a home. 41 percent of those homeless LGBTQ youth have engaged in survival sex. 30 percent have been robbed. 22 percent have been sexually assaulted, and a third have been victims of a hate crime.

To make matters worse, the LGBTQ youth without homes overwhelmingly come primarily from certain portions of the population. Surveys done in New York City for example, show that 62 percent identify as black, and 20 percent are Hispanic.

The above statistics don’t even touch on the issues faced primarily by transgender individuals. The stories of children afraid to eat or drink before or during school for fear of having to pick a restroom that won’t earn them the ire of administrators and fellow students are horrifying. A horror only matched by the numbers of transgender women murdered every year.

The above issues are important, but they are only the tip of the iceberg in a broader discussion of the challenges confronting members of the LGBTQ community that are ignored by the legislative agendas of Congress and the growing consensus in favor of “gay rights”.

Allowing gay and lesbian individuals to serve openly in the military and ensuring people can marry whomever they love is incredibly important, but a singular focus on issues like these risks leaving behind members of the LGBTQ community just as deserving of basic rights as the people interested in marriage and military service.

Marriage equality is an imperative, but it will be a shame if the energy behind the LGBTQ equality movement dissipates before issues confronting the most vulnerable members of the community are resolved.

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, there is a tradeoff. There are limits on the amount of money LGBTQ groups can  devote to lobbying, the bills that allies in legislative chambers can put their political capital behind.

Most importantly, there are limits to energy and momentum for particular causes. The fervor that once fueled marches in Selma and Montgomery has long since subsided, even though our schools are just as segregated as they’ve ever been. The hopefulness that once fueled women’s liberation movement has turned into the hard feelings that lead female icons to proclaim that they are not feminist. The fact that the Great Society soon gave way to Reagan’s “welfare queen” rhetoric and Romney’s “47 percent” needs no explanation.

Marriage equality is awesome, and it’s important. But windows are small, lets try to push a few more things through this one while we still can.


Reach Deputy Opinion Editor Christian Patterson here; follow him here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.