The success of marriage equality in the United States does not bring acceptance with it
|LGBT community members and their supporters have rightful reason to take pride in the achieving of certain legal rights in the last year: 17 states in America have given legal recognition to same-sex marriage with a couple of other states waiting in the wings to do likewise, and the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down as unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act - DOMA - although falling short of handing down federal recognition of same-sex unions. But celebration of the these legal victories must be tempered by the reality that they do not equate to acceptance of the LGBT community and its individual members. Rather, the legal victories in the movement for equality mark a graduation to the next objectives - federal recognition of same-sex marriage and acceptance.
Legal observers predict the Supreme Court likely will be pressed some day into ruling on federal recognition of gay marriage, especially after it overturned DOMA. But even if the high court gives federal sanction to same-sex marriage, that landmark accomplishment will not force acceptance of LGBT people onto individual citizens and public institutions. Oblivious of the recent legal protections afforded the LGBT family, acts of violence - hate crimes - against people perceived to be gay or bisexual have not stopped, nor have employer and work place forms of discrimination that are subtle enough to escape legal consequences. An arguable comparison that legal victories do not equal acceptance might be to the election in the United States of its first African-American president: it has done little to eliminate race-based discrimination in society at large and, also arguably, may in fact have strengthened racist ideologies. In the wake of the Republican Party's disastrous showing in the 2012 federal election, more than a few party members were quoted in comments about how the GOP could be salvaged that the party "is full of racists." Republican Sen. John McCain, who was buried in the 2008 presidential election, has said in broadcast interviews that members of his own party will never join bipartisan work with the Obama administration because they simply "don't like" the president. That McCain didn't offer or was asked why some Republicans "don't like" their president, the door is open to speculation that their dislike is because of differing political views - or simply because the president is black.
The LGBT community and its advocates may do well to take a lesson from history in their movement for acceptance. And, arguably, those lessons may be in the decisive 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the race-based case of Brown v. Board of Education, and the passive resistance protest that Dr. Martin Luther King advanced in the African-American civil rights movement in the 1960s. The Brown decision is distinguished in Supreme Court and social history by two results: first, in ruling as unconstitutional the practice then of educating white and black children in separate classrooms, the court gave legal muscle - legitimized - what would come to be the civil rights movement, and, second, the Brown decision reversed an 1896 court opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson that established the "separate but equal" doctrine. The '54 court ruled, in essence, that separate is inherently unequal.
Still, Jim Crow laws and racial violence met African-Americans in the decade after their landmark legal victory in the Supreme Court - and certainly still do, to some extent. But despite that resistance - or, because of it - the black community marshaled the legal authority of the Brown case to advance its movement from legal equality to acceptance. That movement continues today although its highest accomplishment is inarguable: the election of a black man to the country's highest political office.
Likewise, the LGBT community and its proponents can cull from their legal victories a strategy to advance their movement to the next level - acceptance as individuals by society at large. But just as African-Americans found in the aftermath of their '54 court victory, the LGBT movement can expect opponents working to undo its legal victories, one a little publicized but potential undermining piece of legislation, the Religious Freedom bill, seen by opponents as a disguised measure to resurrect the dead Defense of Marriage Act.
In a substantive sense, the LGBT movement for total equality is currently in the same position that the black community was in the years after its '54 landmark victory. A battle may have been won, but the war is far from over.