Every great success carries with it a touch of sorrow, and that’s turning out to be the case with marriage equality. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling granting us the right to marry, a number of long-time activists are fretting that we are at risk of losing the things that make us unique.
“What do gay men have in common when they don’t have oppression?” Andrew Sullivan wondered to The New York Times. “I don’t know the answer to that yet.”
“People are missing a sense of community, a sense of sharing,” Eric Marcus, the author of “Making Gay History,” told the paper. “There is something wonderful about being part of an oppressed community.”
It’s not by accident that a lot of the wistfulness is emanating from people of a certain age, who experienced the AIDS crisis, ACT UP, Queer Nation, and the Defense of Marriage Act. The causes of the 1980s and 1990s energized an entire generation of lesbians and gay men.
With the marriage ruling, it seems like the final chapter is being written. Yes, there are still battles to be fought, as Michelangelo Signorile has pointed out. We are still lacking federal anti-discrimination protections, meaning that we can get married but also fired legally. In fact, we can get fired because we got married, a trend we will likely see soon. The religious right will amp up it’s argument that our very presence erodes their faith-based right to discriminate in all things. The antigay GOP is not likely to pass civil rights legislation anytime soon. And the rest of the world, with the exception of Europe, is still decades if not centuries behind where we are. With the international reach of social media, it’s easy to see American activists working to help outcasts everywhere.
But Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion makes it clear once and for all that we are equal members of society. There’s no turning back from that.
The question that’s bothering some veterans is, after building a movement and culture on being different, what will it mean to be just like everyone else? Outside of the bedroom, will being gay become more like an ethnic identity?
It already has for some people. “I’m kind of sexually gay but ethnically straight,” star statistician Nate Silver has said.
We’re a long way from pride parades becoming the equivalent of a St. Patrick’s Day parade (with better abs), where people are only remotely connected to their background. Being gay will always mean being different–just not as different. For all the people who have suffered and been damaged for that reason, starting with the kids who have been bullied to the point of suicide, the end of oppression can’t start soon enough.
What we’re also witnessing is that the culture is much more diverse than we’ve been ready to admit. It’s easy to put aside your differences when you’re united around a single cause, like fighting the AIDS crisis. But now that we don’t have that focus, we’re discovering that there are a lot of people in our community who are quite content to live quiet lives that look like everyone else’s–raising kids, caring for elderly parents, living in the (gasp) ‘burbs, working in office cubicles. And that’s not a bad thing.
In fact, that’s the point of equality. But it comes with its own set of responsibilities.
There is a danger that people who are really different will be marginalized, and that would be a betrayal of the cause. It would be a Pyrrhic victory if we forget about sexual liberation, about queer identities, and about the struggle for transgender equality. Shame on us if we botch the opportunity to help non-gay people see the beauty of living true to yourself, social pressures be damned.
Having the freedom to live as we want has been the fight for decades. That fight gave meaning to a lot of people’s lives. Seeing that chapter come to a close is a bittersweet moment. But as anyone who has lived through that time should be able to tell you, these are the good old days.