The Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality remains cause for celebration, but as the resistance that quickly sprung up shows, not everyplace is going to embrace it. That’s likely to be a particular problem in small town America.
Even in the deep south, major cities have large LGBT communities, with all the political connections that implies. Small town America is another question altogether, despite the stereotype that small-town America values — mom, pop, and a couple of kids — would seem to lend itself to marriage. In fact, it will be much easier in the fast-lane urban environments where family values are a bit more complicated.
While marriage is legal there, here are five reasons why it may not necessarily be easy.
1. You could get fired. This is the most real threat that couples could face. In the majority of states, you have no legal protection in the workplace. If your boss finds out you are gay because you got married, you could be fired faster than it takes to say “I do.” (You just know that Catholic dioceses across the nation have ordered someone to scan wedding announcements so that they can identify the next teacher to dismiss.) States that don’t have protections won’t be adding them, as opponents of marriage equality will make a point of stopping anything remotely pro-gay in its tracks. And forget about federal protections. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is going nowhere as long as conservative Republicans control the House.
2. You could lose your home. This is a corollary of getting fired. In many communities you don’t have housing protection either. If your landlord wants to throw you out because he can’t stand the idea of your being married, he can do so. You might have a case that you were discriminated against on the basis of marital status. But you’ll still have to find a new home in the meantime.
3. You’re on the front line of the religious liberty war. Every holier-than-thou county clerk, baker and wedding photographer is aching to make a statement about their personal beliefs. They won’t be making those statements in Chelsea or West Hollywood, because they are much more likely to be living in small towns, especially in the South. Moreover, it won’t just be wedding vendors. For example, accountants may not want to prepare your joint tax return. (Thank God for Turbo Tax.) Religious liberty is the next big fight, and there is an army of pro bono lawyers ready to defend the right of wingnuts everywhere to discriminate against you.
4. Marriage is much more public than you imagine. Thought that you’d just have a quiet little ceremony? Your marriage certificate is a matter of public record. Small town papers still often publish the names of everyone who has taken out a marriage license. It takes some looking to find the information, but it’s out there. And at least in the early days, you can count on some self-appointed defenders of the faith to be looking really hard for the first signs that their community is going to hell in a pink handbasket.
5. Harsh words lead to harsh deeds. This is potentially the most troubling consequence of the marriage ruling. It’s easy to laugh off the bloviating of Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee, to say nothing of the apocalyptic rantings of religious right leaders. But look at how high they have raised the stakes with their rhetoric by describing the Supreme Court decision as illegal, a threat to Christians and destructive to democracy. Those are dangerous arguments to throw around because they can take root in unstable personalities. While antigay attacks can happen even in the most accepting cities, the attitudes in small towns may make them more fertile ground.
It’s a testament to the bravery and resilience of the LGBT community in small-town America that it has been front and center in celebrating the Supreme Court ruling. Ultimately, nothing will stop couples from expressing their love for one another. But as we move ahead in the coming weeks and months, let’s not forget that for some of us, that expression is going to carry more risk than it will in big cities.
But every risk has a reward. By showing their communities what love can look like, small-town couples will change attitudes that must be changed. It’s all about coming out.
And for many of us the biggest coming out of all may be getting married.
Photo credit: faungg’s photos