When we discuss equality, we have to remember to do so in its entirety.
Usually, we talk about the equality we can measure in tangible goals. Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Done. Find the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional? Check. Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? Halfway there. Marriage equality in all 50 states? Plenty are lined up on the steps of the Supreme Court ready to be the one to do it. The LGBTQ movement is moving so fast that we have hastily scribbled down the milestones we think we should check off in order to say we finally have won.
If we stick to this mentality, we will ignore half the equation. If all it takes is to check off every legal victory, we could say we did so within the next 20 years, perhaps even sooner.
There are currently seven states where same-sex couples are challenging their state’s ban on gay marriage, and one of those cases could end up at the Supreme Court as early as next year. When that happens, SCOTUS has the possibility of bringing same-sex marriage to every state across the country, but even if it doesn’t, another case will likely make its way back to the courts soon after.
Legal equality is almost an inevitability, and with time and effort, is the equality that is tangible. Though when we get there, there’s bound to be resistance. For every civil rights victory, the opposition never loses quietly, and we would be foolish to assume this time would be different. Society won’t start treating LGBTQ people the way it should just because the courts ruled we are all equal under the law.
If they did, then we wouldn’t have had discriminatory laws in the first place. Sexual orientation and gender identity would be considered parts of who we are and not what defines us as different. Whose hand we hold won’t garner stares from strangers, and meeting new people won’t come with the fear of being rejected.
When we have those things, then we could consider ourselves equal, but it's this lack of social equality that keeps this dream far out of reach.
For as long as we have politicians who vote to reintroduce the Defense of Marriage Act the day after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, we will never have social equality. As long as we have legislators in Missouri who introduce an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill knowing very well it would never be put into law, we will never have social equality. As long as we have states like mine — Nebraska, which remains one of the few states left to say same-sex couples can’t adopt — we will never have social equality.
Legal equality will come in my lifetime, and I am damn lucky to be from a generation that gets to experience it. Social equality — that is something we will have to fight for every day for the rest of our lives.