We are on the verge of marriage equality, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over


CeCe CoxAs we move further into June, the days get longer. That’s science — the tilt of the earth’s axis. But, I noticed the nights seem to be getting longer, too, which seems to be caused by my obsession over the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court marriage ruling.

I go to bed and wake up during the night thinking about it. Why do I care?

I became invested in marriage equality more than 20 years ago. When I was president of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, I met Evan Wolfson, then with Lambda Legal and one of the lead litigators in the milestone case Baehr v. Lewin. The Hawaii Supreme Court found that excluding same-sex couples from marriage was discriminatory, and remanded the case to state court.
While the case wound through the legal system, Hawaiian voters passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Lambda was working to create awareness and support for marriage equality. It may be difficult to imagine, but many people in the LGBT community were terrified of advancing the right to marry. The then-head of HRC told me she wouldn’t touch the issue with a 20-foot pole.

In support of Lambda’s educational initiative, DGLA created a media event including a poster series designed by fellow board member Susan Page.

It featured images of and quotes from far-right conservatives about how government should not over-reach into personal lives.

The hypocrisy and ignorance of many elected officials is as obvious today as it was 20-plus years ago. In anticipation of a possible Supreme Court ruling that would require same-sex marriages to be legally recognized, Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 2065, the “Pastor Protection Bill,” into law last week. Where do I even start? Pastors need to be protected from what?

Civics Lesson 101: The United States has something called The Constitution. It prohibits the government from interfering in the exercise of religion. Therefore, pastors already get to do lots of bat-poop crazy stuff, and no one can force them to perform a marriage if they don’t want to. We don’t need a new law in Texas to ensure a right that already exists!

By the way, Governor, not all pastors are bigots, just as not all LGBT persons are heathens. Some of us queers grew up in communities of faith and know pastors and faith leaders who actually understand the message of love and inclusion and who would be glad to marry us. They don’t need your so-called “protection” anyway!

Now for Civics Lesson 201: That thing called The Constitution has more than one paragraph. It provides for religious freedom AND for equal treatment of individuals under the law. Two freedoms can co-exist!

For example, when a business is open to the general public, it cannot treat one group one way by serving them delicious frosted cake, but treat another group differently by refusing the cake. Open to the public means open to all of the public.

In the recent legislative session, Abbott supported passage of a so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) law that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to anyone of their choice, based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” While a RFRA passed in Indiana and then was altered due to backlash, Texas dodged a bullet and our governor did not get his way.

These fear-driven legislative actions are exactly why some LGBT folks were scared to death of pushing marriage as a civil rights issue back in the early 1990s.  RFRA-styled laws are a desperate backlash.

So, why do I care so much about marriage equality? There are legal wins that would arguably benefit more people, such as federal or state employment nondiscrimination protections. However, the marriage train left the station a long time ago and has proven to be a significant vehicle to open the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans who now favor marriage equality and who have learned about our lives and families as a result of the issue.

So, like all LGBT civil rights issues, this is personal. I’m generally upbeat, but I’m also sick of having to justify my existence, beg for my civil liberties and listen to the junk that spews from the mouths of many elected leaders.

After the Pastor Protection Bill was signed into law, Attorney General Ken Paxton had the audacity to say “we now have much more work to do to ensure that all Texans can practice their faith and, among other things, recognize traditional marriage without being punished, harassed or discriminated against for their beliefs.”

Drop mic.

If the Supremes decide there is a constitutional right to marry, I’ll be really happy and plan to dance in the streets. And the next day, I’ll get back to work, because we are nowhere close to achieving all that needs to be accomplished in our movement: racial, gender, gender identity and economic equity; safety for our bullied and rejected LGBTQ youth; access to health services; support and community for our seniors; elimination of stigma around HIV and more. And, there will be more backlash while we get that stuff done.

No wonder I can’t sleep.

Cece Cox is CEO of Resource Center. She is a longtime LGBT rights activist and an attorney.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2015.